Florida Divorce and Family Law Attorneys
The Florida divorce lawyers at the Martin Law Firm focus on divorce and family law issues of all types. We help clients navigate matters from the relatively simple to the exceedingly complex; for example when divorcing parties bring in significant assets, such as retirement accounts, businesses, real estate, and any number of types of investments. We help our clients through the often difficult issues involved in a divorce, such as child custody, visitation, child support, and alimony.
Although a significant number of cases result in fairly negotiated settlements, we are not afraid to take your case to trial when necessary, and we have the experience and determination to obtain the best possible results.
Divorce is an intense and emotional time; our team will assist you in reducing your stress and discovering a path to your future.
Why Should I Hire a Divorce Attorney?
Divorce is one of life’s significant changes, and everything you’ve ever worked for is at risk during a divorce. For starters, you need someone on your side and your side alone. As your divorce attorneys, we will not judge you or argue with you; we will simply support you. Furthermore, you need someone that knows the law and how to get you everything you deserve. We can explain the law to you, make sure the process is proceeding fairly, navigate the complex court system for you, and even help you communicate with your spouse.
The experienced Florida divorce attorneys at the Martin Law Firm can help diffuse the often contentious nature of divorce and help you keep the process business-like and professional. We can protect your rights, streamline the process, handle the mountains of paperwork, and help you make critical decisions.
Divorce in Florida
Even under the best of circumstances, divorce can be a challenging experience for a family. In most cases, couples disagree on one or more critical issues.
While child support is usually determined by Florida state guidelines, property distribution, alimony, and child custody are often hotly contested. In some cases, it is possible for couples to reach a settlement through mediation or negotiation, while it is necessary to go to trial in other cases. At the Martin Law Firm, our Cape Coral divorce lawyers can help you settle when possible or provide aggressive representation at trial when necessary. In either of these situations, enlisting the representation of a family law attorney is an important step to take in protecting your interests. Our firm treats its clients like family, tailoring our representation to their personal needs and goals.
Dissolution of Marriage: P.E.A.C.E
In Florida, family law attorneys use the P.E.A.C.E. acronym to guide them in analyzing and presenting their case to the court. The judge also uses this acronym to assist in reaching a ruling in divorce cases.
The letters in the P.E.A.C.E. acronym stand for the following:
Parental responsibility and time-sharing of minor children is the first and most crucial issue for the family law judge to determine. The court will determine the nature of parental responsibility for the minor child and establish a time-sharing schedule. There is a presumption in Florida for shared parental responsibility which begins with the premise that the parties will continue to work together to make decisions in the best interest of the children. The minor child’s best interest guides the court in reaching its decision, and we require our clients to use this to guide their goals in our representation. The Court will then craft a timesharing schedule that fits the unique needs of every family.
The assets and liabilities of the marital estate are divided equitably by the court. While equitable distribution can mean an equal division of the marital estate, sometimes factors are present where unequal distribution of the assets and liabilities of the marriage is more fair or equitable.
Alimony is paid from one former spouse to the other to maintain the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. This is paid based on need and ability to pay. So, if one former spouse needs a certain amount of money and the other spouse has the ability to pay, then alimony may be available. However, further consideration is the length of the marriage. The Court can order permanent periodic alimony, durational alimony, bridge the gap alimony, rehabilitative alimony, and temporary alimony after considering the individual circumstances of the parties. Whether you are the potential payor or payee it is important to have counsel and guidance on the factors which will influence the Court’s decision.
Prior to engaging our lawyers, you must be prepared to honestly consider the best interests of your minor children over yours. Child support is paid in Florida using a statutory formula considering the parents’ net monthly income and the percentage of overnights the minor child spends with each parent.
Here the court considers all other aspects of the dissolution in order to dissolve the marriage equitably.
Who Pays Attorneys Fees in Florida?
During a divorce, both spouses are eligible to receive equal representation. Attorneys fees in Florida cases can be awarded in family law cases based on the need of the requesting party and the ability to pay the paying party. This is intended to allow both parties access to counsel of equivalent skill and abilities. So if you are the “breadwinner” spouse, you may be exposed to paying your spouse’s fees, who may have a reduced earning ability. Likewise, if your income does not match your spouse, you still may have access to effective counsel by having that spouse ordered to assist in the payment of your legal fees.
Filing for Divorce in Florida
Either your spouse or you must be a legal resident of Florida for at least six months before divorcing in the state.
How Long Does It Take
A court is allowed to enter a final divorce judgment as soon as 20 days after you file the divorce petition, but if you can prove it would be unfair to wait those 20 days, a divorce may be obtained even sooner. However, if there are several contested issues, it is likely to take longer.
Florida allows married couples to file for a no-fault divorce. This means that you will not need to prove that your spouse was at fault to divorce. Either spouse may file on the grounds that their marriage is irretrievably broken or that one spouse has suffered mental incapacitation lasting three years. However, the court may consider fault as a factor when distributing property between the spouses or awarding alimony to a spouse.
Florida property division occurs on an equitable distribution basis. Although the court assumes the property will be divided equally, it can change the distribution based on principles of fairness as applied to the particular facts.
Factors that can be considered when distributing property include:
- the economic circumstances of each spouse
- how long the marriage lasted
- what each spouse contributed to the marriage
- the children’s best interests in connection with the marital home
Rather than leave this issue up to the courts, the spouses can try to reach a settlement. Often, this is best accomplished with the help of divorce attorneys in the Cape Coral area who understand the relevant law and how a court is likely to view the facts of the case.
Child Timesharing in Florida
Another important issue for couples with children is a timesharing schedule. Like courts in many other states, Florida courts look at the children’s best interests when determining how parents will share time and responsibilities related to the children after the divorce.
Florida courts will also take the following into consideration when establishing legal custody:
- Ages of children
- Parent/child relationships before the divorce
- The best arrangement that will be least disruptive
- If either parent plans to relocate following the divorce
- The ability of parents to provide necessary mental and emotional support to children and maintain physical health and extracurricular activities.
- In some cases, the child’s preference
In Florida, parental responsibility may be shared or shared with the ultimate decision-making awarded to one parent or held solely by one parent. It is presumed that a child should have frequent contact with both parents after the divorce, and when possible, joint decision-making with shared parental responsibility is granted. Generally, the court will consider this an appropriate arrangement if the parents can effectively communicate about their kids without court intervention.
Parental Responsibility addresses the decision-making for the child. There are basically three alternate forms of parental responsibility in Florida: shared parental responsibility, shared parental responsibility with ultimate decision making, and sole parental responsibility.
Shared Parental Responsibility
Florida has a strong presumption for shared parental responsibility. Shared parental responsibility is appropriate when both parents are able to effectively communicate with each other about parenting decisions regarding their children. Disputes are resolved in a mature manner and resolved without court intervention.
Shared Parental Responsibility with Ultimate Decision Making
Shared parental responsibility with ultimate decision making granted to one parent is appropriate when both parents have communication disputes and cannot effectively resolve conflicts over their decisions. Both parents are considered effective parents, and this form of parental responsibility should not be considered a strike against the parenting abilities of the non-decision-making parent. However, the non-decision-making parent will have demonstrated to the court an inability to co-parent with the other parent in a way where the court determines that in the best interest of the minor child, ultimate decision making should be granted to the other parent.
Sole Parental Responsibility
Sole parental responsibility is rare and is only granted in the most extreme cases. Sole parental responsibility is ordered when one parent has demonstrated to the court an inability to exercise parental responsibility properly, and it is in the best interest of the minor child that only one parent has parental responsibility.
A common misconception is that mothers have sole natural rights to their child to exclude the father. In practice, this is incorrect, and both parents should consider that the minor child has equal rights to both parents. Under current law, there is no “standard schedule,” The Court will establish a timesharing schedule in the best interest of the individual child for the case.
Child support is paid in Florida using a statutory formula considering the parents’ net monthly income and the percentage of overnights the minor child spends with each parent, along with some additional considerations, including health care and daycare expenses.
It is important that parents put aside their differences and work to co-parent even in hostile relationships. Our attorneys offer solutions and problem-solving approaches to these types of cases. When necessary, our attorneys will take these cases to trial to obtain the appropriate result.
Calculating Child Support in Florida
In Florida, as in all states, parents are legally obligated to provide support for their children. When determining child support, Florida follows what’s known as an “Income Shares Model.” Under this model, courts attempt to estimate how much money the parents would have spent on their children if they remained together. This amount is then divided between the two parents based on their incomes.
Florida courts look to the Florida Child Support Guidelines, found in section 61.30 of the Florida Statutes, to guide them in creating a child support order. The figure arrived at by applying the code section is the presumptive amount, which means that, generally speaking, the court must order this amount.
A court is allowed some limited flexibility in adjusting the presumptive amount in any particular case. Specifically, the court is limited to set a child support amount that is either 5% above or 5% below the presumptive amount according to the particular facts of the case at hand.
How Long is Child Support Paid in Florida
According to the Florida child support statute, when a child reaches the age of “majority,” which in Florida is age 18, child support obligations are terminated by court order or may stop automatically at that time.
However, section 743.07(2) of the Florida Statutes allows that a court may extend child support obligations “when…dependency is because of a mental or physical incapacity which began prior to [the child] reaching majority or if the person is dependent, is between the ages of 18 and 19, and is still in high school, performing in good faith with a reasonable expectation of graduation before the age of 19.” In such a case, support obligations end upon graduation or age 19, whichever comes first.
Finally, child support obligations may never end if the child has special needs and can’t become a self-supporting adult.
Determination of Paternity
Determination of Paternity is the legal name for establishing parental rights for minor children when the parents are unmarried. It is called this even if the actual fatherhood is not in dispute. Any parent who has a child outside of marriage must eventually do a paternity case. When the parents are getting along, possibly even in an intact relationship these types of cases may be resolved amicably with little expense. In some cases, it is possible to resolve this type of case for a flat fee. In a paternity case, three things will be addressed: parental responsibility, time-sharing, and child support.
Alimony in Florida
There are many complex aspects of a divorce proceeding, even when the parties are generally in agreement about how their assets and property should be divided. Some of the most common questions that we receive as divorce lawyers concern alimony, including how the amount is calculated, when the court will award payments, and how long the payments will continue.
Having assisted many people with navigating the legal system, the Fort Myers and Cape Coral alimony lawyers at the Martin Law Firm understand how complicated a divorce proceeding can be. We will ensure that you understand the full scope of your rights at every juncture and assist you with securing a workable outcome.
What is Alimony in Florida
In some cases, alimony or spousal support is appropriate to give financial assistance to a spouse with fewer financial resources. Alimony is awarded when there is a need for financial assistance, and the other spouse is able to pay alimony. Alimony is not automatically awarded through a formula, as child support is.
Also known as maintenance, alimony is not intended to punish the paying spouse. Instead, alimony payments are usually awarded to recognize that the paying spouse may possess additional skills, resources, and abilities that enable them to support themselves independently after the marriage is ended. The payment is designed to assist the receiving spouse with achieving a similar level of security moving forward.
Alimony payments can be doled out on a monthly basis or received in a lump sum payment. In some cases, the court may award a combination of the two.
Determining Florida Alimony
Alimony is not determined with a simple calculation. The court may consider a variety of factors when deciding whether to award alimony and how much to award.
- Length of the Marriage. Florida courts are reluctant to award any alimony for very short marriages. However, alimony is frequently awarded for long-term marriages, e.g., decades-long.
- Current Financial Resources of Each Party. Florida courts consider the current financial resources available to each party, including current assets and all sources of income.
- The Future Earning Ability of Each Party. Florida courts also look ahead to each party’s ability to earn a living in the future, including what kind of a living is likely.
- Child Support Obligations. Florida courts may order a spouse to pay both child support and alimony, but child support obligations are also considered when considering alimony. Child support takes precedence over alimony.
- Existence of a Supportive Relationship. Finally, Florida courts also consider whether the party seeking alimony has entered into another “supportive relationship,” such as a relationship with another person romantically, although it could be a family member or a close friend. The financial support provided by this relationship may result in a reduction in alimony obligations.
Types of Alimony
The judge will consider many factors in determining how much alimony to award. A primary consideration is how long you have been married:
- Short-term marriages are those that lasted fewer than seven years
- Moderate-term or grey area marriages fall between those lengths
- Long-term marriages are those that lasted 17 years or longer
There are several different categories of alimony payments recognized in Florida. An alimony attorney in Cape Coral or Fort Myers can advise you on what may be appropriate for your situation.
- Bridge the Gap Alimony: In some instances, the court may award what is known as “bridge the gap” alimony. In this situation, one spouse is required to make alimony payments to the other spouse for a limited period while the receiving spouse works on achieving financial independence and stability. Bridge the gap alimony may be awarded the intention of allowing the recipient spouse to “bridge the gap” from being a married person to a single person.
- Temporary Alimony: Another type of alimony is temporary alimony, which is a short-term payment obligation that typically concludes when the divorce is finalized. It can then be replaced with another form of alimony.
- Rehabilitative Alimony: Also, Florida courts can award rehabilitative alimony, which is intended to assist the receiving spouse with acquiring a degree or vocational skills to help them with achieving financial independence. In this instance, the court must provide a specific course of action in the order, describing the career that the recipient intends to pursue and the steps that they will take to further it.
- Permanent Alimony: Finally, permanent alimony is an award granted usually in moderate-term or long-term marriages. It is available when the receiving spouse lacks the capacity to achieve the same financial standard they were accustomed to during the marriage and requires the payment on a permanent basis. Generally, for a marriage that has not lasted more than ten years, permanent alimony will not be ordered as there is a presumption against it. For a marriage lasting from ten to eighteen years, permanent still may not be awarded, but there is no presumption for or against it. Finally, for marriages lasting longer than eighteen years, there is a presumption of awarding permanent periodic alimony. However, as described above, just because the marriage length justifies permanent periodic alimony, the need and ability to pay must still be established.
- Durational Alimony: Meanwhile, durational alimony is a term used to describe alimony awards in short-term or moderate-term marriages. When other types of alimony do not fit the situation, this type of alimony can be used to help the spouses recalibrate financially in their new and separate lives. The alimony payments cannot exceed the length of the marriage, and either spouse can request a modification of the alimony payments in the event that they experience a change in circumstances. The court has broad discretion in deciding whether to award permanent alimony and will consider the standard of living to which the couple became accustomed during the marriage.
Collaborative Divorce is an alternative to a “contested divorce.” In Collaborative Divorce both you and your attorney are members of a team. The entire team is forward-focused and works to reach a resolution that benefits everyone. A typical collaborative team will consist of attorneys for both spouses, a facilitator, and other necessary experts. Collaborative divorce is not filed with the Court until a settlement is reached and allows families to keep their personal financials confidential among the team. Those who choose Collaborative Divorce are committed to resolving the case with an amicable agreement. Our family law teams have additional training to assist those who are considering Collaborative Divorce and would be happy to discuss the pros and cons of this process.
Consult a Trustworthy Family Law Lawyer in Cape Coral or Fort Myers
If you are considering a divorce proceeding or are involved in a divorce proceeding, you do not need to navigate the legal complexities alone. Even if you and your spouse agree on most aspects of the separation, retaining an experienced family law attorney can help you ensure that the matter is handled in a timely, appropriate, and careful legal fashion.
Protect your legal rights and take the guesswork out of this stressful but critical time in your life. Our Fort Myers and Cape Coral alimony attorneys are a husband and wife team who understand the complexities of marriage. Serving residents of Naples, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Tampa, Miami, and other South Florida cities, we offer a free consultation, so call us now at (844) 642-6259 or contact us online.