As the title suggests, family law is an aspect of the United States legal system that involves the often complex, emotionally charged matters that affect couples, families, and loved ones. While any legal matter can be complex and challenging, family law matters often seem daunting and overwhelming to those involved. Fortunately, Florida legal statutes address many aspects of family law providing those moving through the legal system with guidelines for how to manage important elements of family law cases. In fact, Florida law has made great strides in recent decades toward protecting the rights of both parents, children, and even grandparents in family law matters. New laws have made it easier for fathers to fight for their rights, for women to be independent, and for the best interests of the children involved to be protected.
The unfortunate side of Florida’s family law statutes is that some delicate areas of family law aren’t as clear as others and rely heavily on precedent and interpretation. In these cases, a great deal of patience is required from the parties involved as the process moves through the appropriate legal channels. Aspects of family law like alimony, paternity, and property division often are unpredictable and may require more than a passing glance in order to be resolved.
Family law encompasses a wide range of important legal matters for individuals and couples as they navigate through the legal system. The complexities of family law are a striking representation of the complexities of everyday relationships. While divorce and the marital relationship are commonly the reason why Florida couples seek out a family law attorney, not all family law matters revolve around divorce. In fact, some aspects of family law are only applicable before a marriage occurs, or after one has dissolved. Many aspects of family law, such as prenuptial agreements, parenting plans, and enforceability, are overseen by the court after the documents have been processed through the legal system. This allows the individuals involved to have peace of mind knowing that their case is important and in good hands.
One of the benefits of family law is that there are options for individuals seeking resolution outside the courtroom, as well as those who would rather proceed with litigation. Collaborative law, mediation, and uncontested divorce are the most common ways for families to work together to resolve issues. In the event that family law matters become contested or require additional legal support, Florida family law court processes are geared at securing the best outcome possible for each individual case.
Though there are many practice areas under the umbrella of family law, there are several common areas that are prevalent in our society, including:
- Alimony/Spousal Support - Florida law provides guidelines for alimony or spousal support, including the form of alimony to be ordered. Alimony may be durational, permanent, rehabilitative, or “bridge the gap.” The amount of alimony ordered, as well as the duration of ordered payments, depends on a series of factors including each party’s income, earning capacity, and standard of living. The existence of a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement may modify standard state guidelines for alimony awards, so full disclosure is crucial.
- Annulment - The State of Florida recognizes annulment as the process of terminating a marriage as if it never existed in the first place. This process is not to be confused with a religious annulment recognized by religious organizations or clergy members. There are only very specific circumstances that may qualify for an annulment under Florida law, such as a marriage under duress, the disappearance of one spouse, failure to consummate the marriage, or the marriage having taken place illegally. Annulment is a complex aspect of family law and requires help from experienced legal counsel because interpreting legal statutes and precedent can be challenging, though it is often necessary.
- Child Custody - Child custody, also known as timesharing, is one of the most important elements of divorce for couples with children. Florida law considers a series of factors when determining child custody, including which parent will be the primary custodian, how legal custody will be divided, and the ability to form a successful parenting plan. Florida law places the best interests of the child or children first in divorce and child custody matters, which will be the primary concern as child custody is decided. Once child custody has been determined and awarded, each parent will be notified of their rights and responsibilities. If either parent feels, at any time, that the other is not upholding their responsibilities, is a danger to the child, or is incapable of caring for the child, then a petition for modification may be filed with the court.
- Child Support - Florida law has specific provisions for determining child support, including guidelines to establish a payment plan that is fair to both parties. Child support agreements may be modified after divorce is finalized if one parent experiences a significant life change, such as remarriage, financial independence, or a financial or health-related hardship. It is important for both parents to fully disclose their individual financial status, ability, and desires so that the child support order is equitable and serves the best interests of the child or children.
- Divorce - Florida is a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning that individuals or couples desiring divorce need only prove that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Florida law allows couples the option of an uncontested divorce if both parties can agree to simple divorce terms. If not, then couples will proceed with divorce litigation and will appear before a judge. Uncontested divorce is much simpler and easy to understand, and often times is much less expensive. Contested divorce cases must follow proper litigation channels, and often are more expensive due to legal fees, attorney hours, and other expenses.
- Domestic Violence - Domestic violence is taken very seriously in the Florida legal system. Anyone who has been abused or believes that he or she is under threat of domestic violence should act quickly and get the protection that they need. Florida allows individuals to file domestic violence injunctions directly with the court, as well as pressing charges through the criminal justice system. The legal system provides victims with the ability to obtain restraining or protective orders against anyone deemed a threat. It is important to note that the individual accused of domestic violence also has rights under Florida law, including the right to remain innocent until proven guilty. He or she will have the opportunity to obtain legal counsel and appear in court at a hearing to discuss the matter. Once the hearing takes place, both parties will be informed of their rights and responsibilities, as well as the course of action that will be taken, including any permanent orders, arrests, etc.
- Father’s Rights - Many fathers believe that their position in family law matters is hopeless. Fortunately, Florida law does recognize father’s rights to custody, visitation, and the benefits of the father-child relationship. In fact, Florida law views fathers and mothers equally, even if the parents were not married at the time the child or children were born. Fathers have the ability to fight for custody, greater visitation periods, child support, if circumstances allow, and greater decision-making capacity.
- Mediation - Mediation is a collaborative option provided to couples with the intent of avoiding the courtroom, or smoothing the courtroom process. Mediation is often processed with the help of experienced attorneys or certified mediators who act as objective parties to the divorce proceedings. For couples who want more control over their divorce, mediation is an excellent tool for collaboration and decreased tension. In some cases, mediation is the choice of the couple, while in others, it may be ordered by the presiding judge in order to resolve conflict outside the courtroom.
- Modification - Everyone knows that life changes, and sometimes those changes are not for the better. When an individual suffers from a debilitating or challenging health condition, illness, or injury, they may also suffer a reduction or termination of employment. Similarly, many individuals are recovering from the damaged economy and have been laid off causing financial hardship or complete loss of income. During such times, meeting alimony or child support payments can be difficult. In such cases, it is possible to file a petition for modification with the court in order to find a suitable resolution. Other factors leading to modification include remarriage, relocation, or a change in ability to comply with court orders.
- Paternity - Ensuring that fathers have parental rights in the eyes of the court sometimes depends on the father’s ability to prove paternity. In order to establish paternity, fathers may need to seek the guidance of an experienced attorney. Only through establishing paternity can some fathers obtain custody, visitation, and the legal benefits of their children. It is also important to note that one of the issues in paternity law is the de-establishment of paternity and legal fatherhood. This may occur when an individual is not the biological father of the child but is listed on the birth certificate or in cases where the father wishes to disclaim his legal rights to the child in order for someone else to adopt the child.
- Prenuptial Agreement - Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements may not be at the forefront of the minds of those planning a wedding or celebrating their newlywed status. However, these agreements are designed to protect individuals getting married, or those who are already married but want to have the same protection from unfortunate events should divorce happen down the road. Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements outline individual and marital property, and how assets and debts will be distributed in the event of divorce or the death of one spouse. It is important that couples seek legal guidance when forming these important agreements as the legal terminology and complexities can be a challenge. Unlike traditional property division, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements allow each individual to retain certain assets and property regardless of how long the marriage lasts.
- Visitation - Visitation guidelines in Florida divorce cases are managed through parenting plans established by the parents, attorneys, parenting coordinators, or a judge. In some cases, all of these parties may be participants in drafting a carefully executed parenting plan. The goal of parenting plans is to provide the utmost stability, consistency, and parental involvement possible. Visitation schedules will be detailed in a parenting plan, and it is the right and responsibility of both parents to ensure that the plan is upheld. If parenting plans are not upheld, either parent can seek enforcement from the legal system.
Why Choose a Gainesville Family Law Attorney
Family law is a broad area of the legal system, and one that requires the dedicated attention of someone that cares about clients and their families. Because family law matters are as individualized as the family themselves, there is no “cookie-cutter” approach for resolving conflict and concerns. Some cases can be resolved through collaborative law, while others will be best served by the experience and wisdom of a judge. No matter which course of action is required, family law matters can be resolved amicably and equitably if all parties take the right steps.
In many family law cases, additional resources are needed to successfully resolve matters, such as mediators, financial planners, forensic accountants, parenting coordinators, and others. In some cases, paperwork may need to be filed and submitted to one or more agencies, which can also be confusing for many families. It is important for Florida families in need of legal counsel to choose an attorney that will work for them and offer them the best help and resources available to secure a successful outcome.
If you need help with a family law matter, contact our office today at (XXX) XXX-XXXX to set up a free consultation. Let our experienced Gainesville Family Law Attorney help you sort through your case and help you understand your rights and responsibilities.