Alimony reform was one of the most highly publicized political issues during the 2013 Florida legislative session. Both sides of the issue worked hard to advance their respective positions. In the end, despite strong support in the Florida Legislature, Governor Rick Scott vetoed alimony reform, citing the retroactive applicability of Senate Bill SB 718 to existing alimony judgments as the principle reason. Of course, there is more to the story than the reasons cited by Governor Scott.
Let’s begin with the most important element of alimony reform: Florida’s political climate. With strong support for alimony reform in the Florida Legislature and the highly organized Florida alimony reform group, Florida Alimony Reform a/k/a Family Law Reform, Inc. (“FAR”), an alimony reform bill in the 2014 legislative session is highly likely. The question is will Governor Scott sign an alimony reform bill into law in 2014?
Governor Scott & Alimony Reform
Governor Scott has relatively strong support among center right and right wing male voters. The Governor’s biggest political risk in the next election cycle is not connecting with female voters. Since alimony is primarily paid to women, Governor Scott runs the risk of alienating female voters if he signs a bill into law that is perceived to be too draconian or insensitive to women who are dependent on alimony payments.
The League of Women Voters strongly opposed last legislative session’s Senate Bill SB 718. If Governor Scott signs a bill in 2014 that swings the pendulum too far in favor alimony of alimony payors, who are primarily men, he runs the risk of his reelection opponent, likely Charlie Crist, casting him as anti-women. A race between Governor Scott and Former Governor Crist will be close. Comprehensive alimony reform is a political risk Governor Scott may be unwilling to take.
It is no secret that many in the alimony movement were upset with Governor Scott’s veto of Senate Bill SB 718, but Governor Scott is still alimony reform’s best hope. If Charlie Crist or another Democrat becomes the next Governor of Florida, Florida alimony reform will likely be delayed even longer due to the Democratic Party favoring women’s issues.
Florida’s Legislature & Alimony Reform
Alimony reform still has strong support in Florida’s Legislature. Senator Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) in the Florida Senate and Representative Ritch Workman (R-Melbourne) in the Florida House are the legislative leaders of alimony reform.
Sen. Stargel was a stay at home mother for much of her marriage to Judge John K. Stargel. She comes from a politically connected family with deep roots in Florida. Considering that Sen. Stargel is a woman and politically connected, she is perhaps alimony reform’s most important political ally. She is the perfect lawmaker to deflect the anti-woman criticism of alimony reform and deal with the intense politics of the Florida Senate.
Rep. Ritch Workman is vocal and passionate about alimony reform. Rep. Workman is charismatic, funny and a good communicator. Rep. Workman strongly believes in alimony reform and will push hard for alimony reform in 2014. Rep. Workman is also a close friend of FAR’s leader, Alan Frisher.
Why Doesn’t the Florida Legislature Override a Future Governor Scott Veto?
Even though the Florida Legislature overwhelmingly passed alimony reform in 2013, it is highly unlikely the Republican controlled Legislature will override a future Governor Scott veto. A veto override would do too much political damage to the Republican Party and Governor Scott to be an option. Even though Rep. Workman and Sen. Stargel disagree with Governor Scott on alimony reform, they are still loyal to their Governor and their political party.
Florida’s Alimony Reform Lobby
FAR’s membership packed a large room during FAR’s recent alimony reform conference in Orlando, Florida. FAR is an extremely well run organization. It is not surprising, considering the majority of its members have been successful in their business and professional lives. Without success, the alimony payors would not be in the position of paying alimony.
The leader of FAR is Alan Frisher. Mr. Frisher is down to earth, smart, and knows how Florida’s political system works. Mr. Frisher is looking to make his organization the watch dog for family law legislation and the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar.
FAR’s fund raising goals in 2014 is $200,000. With exception of a modest salary paid to Mr. Frisher, FAR is a volunteer organization. FAR will utilize the money it raises to run its organization and pay a pair of very effective lobbyists.
Jonathan Kilman, a Harvard Educated lawyer, is FAR’s lead lobbyist. Mr. Kilman is smart and experienced. He believes that legislators respond best to communication that is: a) persistent; b) rational and c) upset. Mr. Kilman contrasts upset with angry noting that angry outbursts directed at lawmakers are counter-productive. He urges FAR’s membership to follow his communication guidelines with legislators and avoid taking an angry tone.
The other Far lobbyist is Paul Lowell. Mr. Lowell, a Tallahassee veteran, is the technician of the FAR lobbying team. Mr. Lowell is a lobbyist/lawyer who specializes in crafting legislation.
The Florida Bar’s Family Law Section and other groups opposed to alimony reform should not underestimate the future effectiveness of FAR. FAR appears ready to leverage a ground swell of political support.
What type of Alimony Reform Can Floridian’s Expect in 2014?
At the recent FAR conference, representatives from FAR, Sen. Stargel and Rep. Workman were all of the opinion that alimony reform in 2014 would not be as comprehensive as the 2013 Bill. Since retroactivity is unlikely to be on the table in 2014, FAR representatives told alimony reform supporters attending the FAR conference in Orlando that while 2014 may not have as big of an impact on their case as the 2013’s Senate Bill SB 718, they must push for alimony reform for future generations.
Even with the retroactivity provisions removed, alimony bills in 2014 will still have the potential to impact existing alimony judgment through changes to the alimony modification standards. Here is a list of potential changes to existing Florida alimony law in 2014:
1) More specific guidelines, definitions and procedures for modification of existing alimony obligations;
2) Make it easier to modify alimony when a former spouse is in a supportive relationship (i.e., co-habituating);
3) Establish specific guidelines for the amount and duration of alimony that may be awarded;
4) Make it easier to modify existing alimony obligations when an alimony payor reaches legal retirement age;
5) Remove the ability for judges to consider second spouses’ income when calculating an upward modification of alimony;
6) Require judges to make specific written findings when awarding alimony.
Arguments For and Against Alimony Reform
1) It promotes fairness and equality between the sexes.
2) Reduces a culture of dependence created by alimony.
3) It gives alimony receivers incentive to improve their career prospects and move on with their life.
4) Allows parties of divorce to truly divorce and go their separate ways.
5) Allows alimony payors to retire like other people in society.
1) It is anti-women.
2) Hurts women who have entered into marital settlement agreements in which they gave up property in order to receive an alimony benefit.
3) If alimony reform is passed, it could create a burden on the State of Florida if dependent woman are unable to support themselves.
Contact Jacksonville Divorce Attorney Christopher Taylor
There will undoubtedly be more changes and twists to Florida alimony reform in late 2013 and 2014. I will strive to update this blog and present both sides of the issue as the Florida alimony reform debate unfolds. If you have questions about alimony reform in Florida, please do not hesitate to contact my office. Media inquiries are welcome.
A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF FLORIDA FAMILY LAW AND DIVORCE MEDIATION
Mediation is one of the most important, if the not most important step in the Florida divorce process. Why? The majority of contested cases end in mediation. In North Florida, courts will order the parties to mediation before they may proceed to trial. In my experience as a divorce attorney practicing in Jacksonville, Florida, 80% to 90% cases are resolved in mediation.
The Family Law Mediation Process
Mediation customarily occurs at a divorce mediator’s office. Typically a divorce mediator is an experienced family law attorney who has practiced family law for a number of years and devotes all or part of his or her practice to mediation. In my opinion, it is critical that the mediator has practiced family law in the past because he or she must be able discuss likely outcomes if the case were to proceed to trial. If the mediator does not know the law and judges, then it will be difficult to discuss possible outcomes.
Mediation normally begins with both parties and their attorneys (if applicable) meeting in a central conference room with both parties stating their respective positions. After the introductory meeting, the parties are separated into separate private conference rooms. Once the parties are separated, the mediator will meet with each party to get his or her side of the story. The mediator will also ask what information they may share with the other party and what information they wish to remain confidential.
After the mediator obtains the facts and positions from the parties, he or she will take offers back and forth between the separate conference rooms. If the parties reach an agreement, the mediator will draft a consent final judgment usually with input from the parties’ attorneys resolving all the issues on the case. The consent final judgment is the document that resolves all issues in the case and is usually approved by the parties’ judge.
It is important to keep an open mind in the mediation process. There is a time to take things to trial in a divorce case, particularly if the opposing party is making unfair demands, but in most cases it will end up costing thousands of additional dollars in attorney’s fees. In a divorce it is understandable, and common, to be upset with the other party; however, mediation is the time to set aside prejudices and resolve your case based on the law and the facts. A good mediator and family law attorney will provide a realistic view of how your case will go at trial. The question is: do you want to pay thousands more to litigate or resolve your case relatively early in the process?
To effectively mediate a case, you should have complete information regarding the marital assets and liabilities. Unfortunately, it is common for one spouse to conceal assets from the other party. Before you come to mediation, you must do your due diligence to ensure all the cards are on the table. For example, if one spouse has a pension, do you know how much it is worth?
A good family law attorney will know how to obtain the information you need. If the other party is unwilling to turn over important financial information, an attorney can issue a subpoena or file a motion to compel discovery.
One you have gathered all of the information about your case, the next step is to organize the information. If you understand all of the issues in the case, you will be better prepared to mediate. Preparation is critical because mediation often ends in settlement. If you make a deal and miss an important fact or issue, it is going to be difficult to change the terms of a mediated agreement in the future. Getting it right at mediation will save you money and provide peace of mind in the future.
Only Accept Fair Offers
It is in your best interest to accept fair and reasonable offers. That is one of the best reasons to have an attorney. A mediator’s role is to facilitate the process, not look out for your best interests. Your attorney will assist you with determining whether a settlement proposal is reasonable.
If a final settlement proposal is unreasonable, after extensive negotiation, it is time to walk. In many cases, I have seen an opposing party who maintained an unreasonable settlement position at mediation resolve the case immediately before trial.
Contact The Taylor Law Office
If you have questions about family law mediation in the Jacksonville, Florida area, please contact us at 904-339-5298 or through this website. Your first consultation is free.
Preparing for a Florida Family Law or Divorce Hearing
For many people participating in Florida family law and divorce cases, their court case may be their first experience with the court system. In my practice as a divorce attorney in Jacksonville, Florida, many people come to my office asking: how do I prepare for my Florida family law and.or divorce hearing? Because every case is different, and every judge is different, it is difficult to provide specific advice about how to prepare for a Florida family law hearing in a blog; however, there are a few general concepts to consider.
What Do You Want?
Surprisingly many people will litigate family law cases without being able to articulate what they want. For example, if you are asking the court to award you alimony, you should be able to tell the court the amount of alimony you are requesting. Many times, I see an opposing party leaving it up to a judge or magistrate or present an arbitrary number that has no rational relationship to the facts of the case. When asking for alimony, be prepared to justify your alimony request with hard financial data, such as bank statements and pay stubs.
If you are seeking majority time-sharing, it is wise to prepare a proposed time-sharing schedule to present to the court and prepare an explanation why your proposed time-sharing recommendation is in the child(ren)’s best interest. Often times, a parent will ask the court for a time-sharing arrangement with the parties’ child(ren) without being able to specify why the proposed arrangement is in the best interest of the children.
It is essential to prepare to answer questions with your attorney or friend, but in most cases questions and answers are not enough. You will need to introduce evidence to support your position. The most common form of evidence that is presented to the Florida family law courts are the parties’ financial records. For example, you may want to introduce the opposing party’s pay stub if you are asking for alimony or child support. When you are planning on introducing evidence, which will be called an “exhibit” once it is introduced to the court, you need to make three copies of the proposed exhibit. One copy of the exhibit is your copy and the other two copies will be provided to the court and the opposing party.
Coming prepared with proposed exhibits is extremely important. You would be surprised how many parties, and surprisingly their attorneys, miss this important piece of preparation. But, just having exhibits ready to go is often not enough. You also need a basic understating of the rules of evidence. For example, if you have school attendance records you want to introduce into evidence, it is important to understand how the business records exception to the rule against hearsay operates or you may not be able to introduce your school attendance records into evidence.
In many cases, the party with an experienced Florida family law attorney has a huge advantage because they are able to get key evidence introduced in the case.
Is Your Financial Affidavit Accurate?
It is very common for parties in Florida family law cases to file inaccurate financial affidavits with the court. There are many reasons why people present inaccurate financial affidavits. Here are some of the most common reasons:
1) A party does not understand their finances well;
2) The party is lazy and doesn’t check their work;
3) A party misrepresents their financial position in an attempt to gain an advantage in their case.
Whatever the reason, when a party’s financial affidavit contains significant inaccuracies that party opens him or herself to attacks on their credibility in a Florida family law hearing or trial. Good family law attorneys will cross reference mandatory disclosure documents to find inaccuracies in the opposing parties’ financial affidavit. Depending on the facts of the case, the extent of the inaccuracies in the financial affidavit, and the judge, presenting an inaccurate financial affidavit can having devastating effects on the outcome of the case.
Contact Attorney Chris Taylor
If you have questions about family law or divorce hearings in the Jacksonville, Florida area, please contact your at 904-339-5298 or click on the Contact Page on the top of this website. Your first consultation is free
DIVORCE ATTORNEY FOR BAKER COUNTY FLORIDA
Are you looking for a divorce or family law attorney for a Baker County, Florida case? I’m attorney Christopher (“Chris”) Taylor. I’m ready to help. My office is less than thirty minutes from Macclenny in Jacksonville’s Riverside neighborhood just off Interstate 10. Do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to schedule a free consultation.
Practicing Family Law in Baker County Florida
Personally I enjoy practicing in Baker County. I spent part of my years growing up on a ranch in Montana. Macclenny reminds me of many towns in Montana in terms of size and being surrounded by trees and pastures. The smaller courthouse is also a plus.
Even though Baker County, Florida has a relatively low population, the judiciary in Baker County Florida is very good. When you are appearing in Baker County, you need to be organized and prepared. I strive to be organized and prepared for each and every hearing.
Client First Practice Philosophy
Many attorneys say they put their client’s first, but do not define what it means. Here is my definition of client first practice: 1) I use technology to keep in touch. In most cases, if you sent me an e-mail or text, you will get a response within a few hours; 2) while I cannot guarantee the outcome of any case; I put myself in my client’s shoes. I work hard for my clients; 3) I strive to operate my business as efficiently as possible. Running a law firm with relatively low overhead allows me to charge a reasonable fee.
Contact Attorney Chris Taylor
To schedule a free initial consultation regarding your divorce matter in Macclenny, Florida or Baker County, Florida, call Chris Taylor at 904.339.5298, complete the form on the Contact Page, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Chris Taylor is admitted to practice law in Florida and Colorado (inactive in Colorado). Chris looks forward to answering your questions.
SUGGESTIONS FOR HOLDING IT TOGETHER IN DIVORCE
As a divorce attorney, I am in a unique position to witness the impact of the divorce process on people’s lives. People going through divorce should never underestimate the physical, emotional, financial and spiritual toll of the divorce process. While it is next to impossible to eliminate all of the stress associated with divorce process, what you do or don’t do can have a significant impact both on you and your case. Based on my experience, if you follow the suggestions below, you will minimize the negative impact of the divorce process on your life.
Physical Health in Divorce
It is common for individuals facing a stressful situation or life event, such as divorce, to engage in bad health habits such as increased alcohol or junk food consumption. However, as most of us know, reliance on vice, is counter-productive. Instead, channel the negative emotion associated with divorce into exercise and healthy eating.
Exercise is probably the best thing you can do to alleviate the stress of divorce. A long run or walk will reduce physical tension created in the body from stressful situations. Stretching and yoga are also effective tools for stress reduction. Whatever form of exercise you choose, it is important to do it on a regular basis. I recommend at least three times per week.
Divorce can have a major impact on finances. In most cases, divorce courts require that you equitably divide your assets, which means there is going to be less for both parties after the divorce process is complete. Given the economic realities of divorce, it is important to live as frugally as possible when going through the divorce process. People in the divorce should resist the urge to make “feel good” major purchases, such as a new car or wardrobe, during the divorce process. Instead, save your money to be prepared to establish a new household.
Obtain Legal Representation
The divorce process is more complex than most people realize. If assets and liabilities are not properly transferred, you run the risk of sustaining even greater losses in the divorce process. A lawyer can assist you with the technical legal issues associated with the divorce process. In some cases, a divorce lawyer can end up saving you money.
A lawyer’s objective opinion and neutrality can be just as important as assistance with legal issues. In most cases, people experience a high level emotion in the divorce process. When addressing parenting time issues involving children, or dividing property that an individual has worked their adult lives to accumulate, it is difficult not to get emotional. A good divorce lawyer can provide a realistic expectation of how a court might decide important issues, such as child custody, so you can know what is fair and reasonable. A lawyer can also help communicate your position in the courtroom and in settlement negotiations.
How to Hire a Divorce Lawyer
There are numerous divorce lawyers in Jacksonville, FL; the area in which I practice. Sorting through the different lawyers and law firms in your area can be daunting task. I suggest interviewing at least three different lawyers before making a decision.
While interviewing potential lawyers, take notes about substantive issues, such as fees, experience and the lawyer’s practice philosophy. Here are some questions to ask:
1) How long have you been practicing divorce and family law?
2) Will you be handling my case or will someone else?
3) What is your hourly fee?
4) Do you require a retainer before starting representation?
While a lawyer’s education and experience are important considerations, just as important, is whether you are comfortable with your lawyer. Your lawyer will be your guide, counselor and advocate. Pay close attention to how the lawyer makes you feel. Is the lawyer someone you can trust? Remember, you will likely be telling the lawyer very personal details about your life.
Parting Thoughts about Friends and Family
Maintaining a connection with friends and family during the divorce process is just as important as the tips listed above. Make time for old friends and family. By staying connected to the people who are close to you, you will not be going through the divorce process alone.
Getting in Touch with The Taylor Law Office
If you have questions about your divorce or family law case, please contact us at 904-339-5298 or click on the Contact page above. Your first consultation is free
SHOULD I USE FREE FLORIDA FAMILY LAW AND DIVORCE FORMS?
The Florida State Court System‘s website publishes free Florida Supreme Court approved forms with instructions on its website. All of the forms that you need to file a family law case or divorce are present on the Florida State Court System website. With all of the free forms, I am often asked the question: should I handle my case myself utilizing the family law forms? My answer depends on the circumstances.
Free Forms Are Better for Simple Cases.
If you and your spouse have been married a short time with no assets, debts and children, you’re probably alright utilizing the simplified dissolution of marriage form. When considering whether or not to use the free Florida Supreme Court approved forms ask yourself: do I have marital assets or debts I’m concerned with, or more importantly, children? If the answer is yes, then ask yourself will I need to go back to court if the goals of the divorce settlement are not accomplished? If you answered yes to both questions, then you should hire a lawyer to handle your divorce.
How do the Free Forms Work for Divorcing Spouses with Assets and Debts?
If you and your spouse have property, debts and assets that you need to divide, I do not recommend utilizing the free forms without assistance of an attorney. A common problem with the Florida Supreme Court approved free forms is the lack of language necessary to transfer certain types of assets. Let’s say, by way of example, a divorcing couple wants to divide a military pension earned during a long term marriage. This is a highly technical area of the law which can have negative consequences if the military pension is not distributed correctly.
An Attorney Saves Time
Even if you have a relatively simple divorce, learning which forms to utilize, and how to complete the forms, can be a time consuming and stressful endeavor. An attorney will streamline the process by completing your divorce forms quickly and correctly.
Contact The Taylor Law Office
If you have questions about your divorce or family law case, please contact us on the Contact Page above or call 904-339-5298. Your first consultation is free
* The sample language above is provided for illustration purposes only. Each situation is different. It is imperative that you consult with an attorney before transferring a military pension. There are numerous other requirements not listed in this blog post.
GOVERNOR SCOTT VETOES ALIMONY REFORM
Governor Scott vetoed Senate Bill 718 a/k/a the “alimony reform bill. ”
Governor Scott’s Letter Explaining His Veto Decision
Governor Scott’s cited the retroactive application of the bill because it “tampers with settled economic expectation” of the parties. Governor Scott also stated that “[a]limony has long been a key component of our domestic relations law. It represents an important remedy for our judiciary to use in providing support to families as they adjust to changes in life circumstances.” Please click on the following link to read Governor Scott’s letter.
Florida Alimony Reform’s Reaction
The leading Florida alimony reform group, Florida Alimony Reform (“FAR”), was disappointed stating:
“GOVERNOR SCOTT PUTS HALT TO ALIMONY REFORM and Vetoes the Alimony Reform Bill SB718. It is an understatement to say we are EXTREMELY DISAPPOINTED!”
Alimony Reform Legislation Will Likely Be Back Next Year
Considering the wide support for alimony reform in the Legislature, another reform bill will likely be back next year. FAR is a very proactive organization with allies in the Florida Legislature. I doubt they will wait long before lobbying for a new bill for next year’s legislative session.
The problem with this year’s bill, in my opinion, was that it was too broad. As Governor Scott indicated, it had retroactive application that could disrupt settled economic expectations. The bill also made changes to child time-sharing (a/k/a custody) laws and changes to short term alimony that were problematic. The bill should have focused on permanent alimony.
Contact The Taylor Law Office
If you have questions about alimony in the Jacksonville, Florida area, please contact us at 904-339-5298 or through this website. Your first consultation is free.
UPDATE: GOVERNOR SCOTT VETOES SENATE BILL SB 718. READ MORE: HERE
50/50 Child Custody Could Be Florida’s Norm
Most of the talk surrounding Florida’s Senate Bill SB 718 has been its radical overall of Florida’s alimony laws, but there are also significant, less publicized, changes to Florida’s child time-sharing laws (a/k/a child custody laws). Currently there is no presumption for or against time-sharing for either parent. The current agnostic time-sharing law affords Florida family law judges flexibility to fashion time-sharing arrangements that are in the best interests of the child(ren) while fostering a relationship with both parents.
The Legislature is taking away a large portion of Florida family law judges’ discretion in family law cases by declaring that it is in the best interest of children to have 50/50 time-sharing with both parents unless certain narrow exceptions apply. The exceptions include:
1) A parent who is incarcerated.
2) A parent who lives too far away to make 50/50 time-sharing practical.
3) An injunction for protection against domestic violence has been entered.
4) There is a history of domestic violence in the home.
5) The safety, well-being, and physical, mental, and emotional health of the child would be endangered by equal time-sharing.
If the above exceptions do not apply, then the parent seeking to deviate from 50/50 time-sharing must show by “clear and convincing evidence of extenuating circumstances” to justify deviation from 50/50 time-sharing. If a parent demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that 50/50 time-sharing is appropriate, the court must make written findings justifying deviating from 50/50 time-sharing.
The Economics of 50/50 Child Custody
In my opinion, the proposed default 50/50 time-sharing standard will create more intense litigation and lead to more time-sharing orders that are not in the best interest of the child(ren). If Senate Bill SB 718 is signed by Governor Scott, economics will increasingly drive child custody litigation.
Child support is in part calculated based on the number of overnights each parent spends with the parties’ child(ren). Even if one parent has done the majority of the parenting prior to or during the separation of the parties, and the potential non-majority time-sharing parent is not naturally inclined to assume time-sharing responsibility, or has a demanding time-consuming career, the potential non-majority time-sharing parent seeking to reduce child support will point to the Legislature’s 50/50 time-sharing pronouncement when negotiating or litigating child support. Why? In my experience as a divorce attorney, many parents seek to minimize their child support obligation. It makes economic sense for the post separation non-majority time-sharing parent to ask for 50/50 time-sharing as a means to reduce child support, even if they may not be naturally inclined to assume 50/50 time-sharing. Senate Bill 718 will make that easier. The question is: will child(ren) benefit?
Current Time-Sharing Law
If you are interested in Florida’s current time-sharing law, click on the following link to an article discussing the current law.
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