Family Law

Our law firm has twenty years of experience assisting clients with their family law matters.  We recognize that divorce and child custody issues generate a great deal of stress and represent crucial turning points in our clients’ lives.  Our goal is to help you make a smooth and effective transition to the next stage of your life.

Among the family law issues we can assist you with are:

Spousal matters

  • pre-nuptial agreements
  • post-nuptial agreements
  • annulments
  • divorce (contested and uncontested)
  • property division
  • alimony (spousal support)

Child related matters

  • parenting plans (child custody)
  • time sharing and contact
  • child support
  • relocation
  • paternity
  • stepparent adoptions
  • guardianships of a minor
  • temporary and concurrent custody by a family member

Pre-nuptial agreements are written and executed by the bride and groom before their marriage.  The agreements define the division of assets, the division of debts, and each party’s rights and obligations if they divorce or die.  Valid pre-nuptial agreements require proof of full financial disclosure to the other spouse before the agreement is signed.

In a divorce where there are no minor children you will want to focus on resolving financial issues.  Your marital assets and debts will be reviewed and it will be determined how best to maintain your financial interests and meet your financial needs after the dissolution of marriage.

If you and your spouse can agree on some, most, or all issues related to the division of assets and debts, financial support, and parenting, you will have far more control over the terms of your divorce than if you allow the court to make all the decisions for your family.  Divorce agreements allow you to be flexible in defining the terms of your divorce while reducing the costs of a lengthy litigation.  Most likely, you will not be able to modify or change the terms after your divorce.  All outstanding or unresolved issues can be reserved and presented to the court at trial.

Alimony, also known as spousal support, is based upon the premise that marriage is a partnership and that the termination of that partnership may require the shifting of a certain amount of income from one party to another.  Alimony is designed to assist the economically weaker spouse in making the transition from marriage to life as a single person by providing income to them after their divorce.

Alimony may be awarded by the Court when there is a difference in earning abilities between the spouses. In other words, alimony may be awarded if the Court finds that one party is “in need of” alimony and that the other party has the “ability to pay” alimony.  Alimony is taxable to the spouse receiving the money and is a tax deduction to the spouse paying the support.

In a divorce where there are minor children in the family, a document called a Parenting Plan (formerly known as child custody) must be developed.  Before a Parenting Plan is drafted each parent’s abilities and each child’s needs must be evaluated.  The final Parenting Plan will be unique and specifically tailored to the family.

Shared Parental Responsibility is the legal presumption in Florida, because the State feels that both parents should be actively involved in their children’s lives, education, religious upbringing, health, and welfare.  The Court will grant Shared Parental Responsibility unless one parent is truly unfit.  Otherwise, both parents will work together in jointly raising their children.

A Parenting Plan governs the way the parties relate to one another about the decisions made regarding children.  Among other issues, it includes children’s individual or special needs, educational placement, transportation issues, extracurricular activities, and medical decision-making.  It also addresses time-sharing, including overnights, weekends and holidays, and summer breaks.  Also included are contact and access rights and how often and the method of technologies that the parents will use to communicate with the children.

If you and your spouse are not able to jointly establish a Parenting Plan, you might benefit from mediation.  Ultimately, the court must be presented with a Parenting Plan jointly agreed upon by both parents.  If the parents cannot jointly agree, the court shall evaluate the children’s best interests to establish a Parenting Plan.  If a Parenting Plan can be developed and agreed to by the parents then it only needs the approval of the Court to become binding.  However, if the parents cannot agree, the schedule will be established by the Court’s determination.

Child support is the financial obligation of parents to their children.  Both parents have a legal duty to support their children.  In general, the financial obligations of each parent for this support is determined by the time sharing established in the Parenting Plan, the incomes of the parents, the insurance costs of the parents, the insurance costs of the children, and any required day care costs.  The obligation to provide support may be modified if any permanent and substantial change occurs, e.g., changes in one parent’s income, changes in day care, changes in the contact schedule, or changes in the child’s needs.

Relocation of a child in Florida is governed by law.  Unless otherwise agreed to in writing, a parent with custody of a minor must obtain either the other parent’s written consent or a Court order [pursuant to Florida Statute 61.13001] approving the relocation of a child more than 50 miles away from their former primary residence.  An oral agreement between parents is not sufficient.

Paternity must be established to ensure the parent-child relationship is legally recognized.  Unmarried fathers do not have rights to custody, parenting contact, parenting decisions, or the right to prevent relocation of the child without an order of paternity.  An unmarried man must register with the Putative Father Registry if he seeks to claim paternity.

Unmarried men are not required to register and are presumed to be the biological father if:

  • they were married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth; or
  • the mother was not married at the time of the birth and the man acknowledged paternity at the hospital at the time of the child’s birth; or
  • the mother was not married at the time of the birth and the man acknowledged paternity after the child’s birth by filing the Consenting Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity with the Office of Vital Statistics; or
  • an order of paternity has been issued by the Court.

Mothers are required to obtain an order of paternity to establish child support obligations.

Stepparent adoption is the most common form of adoption.  A stepparent who adopts agrees to be fully responsible for his or her spouse’s child.  After the stepparent adoption occurs, the parent terminating their rights to the child no longer has any rights or responsibilities for the child, including child support.

Guardianship of a minor occurs when the parents are not able to care for the minor or are unwilling to do so.  A minor’s guardian has full time legal custody and control of the child.  A person appointed as a guardian is usually a close family member or other adult close to the minor, or the local child services agency.  In establishing a guardianship you may be required to oppose the child’s parents, as well as prove to the court it is in the child’s best interest.

There may be many reasons to petition for temporary or concurrent custody by a family member. Among them can be economic, emotional, academic or substance abuse reasons.  An extended family member may petition the court for temporary or concurrent custody of a minor child. The definition of “extended family member” is a relative within the third degree by blood or marriage to the parent (child’s grandparents, great grandparents, great great grandparents, aunts and uncles, great aunts and great uncles, first cousins, adult siblings).

Whether through negotiation, mediation, or litigation, our law firm provides personal and attentive client service to individuals and families in Manatee and Sarasota Counties.  We provide our clients with the representation and legal advice they need and deserve.  For more information about how we can help you please contact our office.