You need experienced counsel on your side. Give yourself a legal advantage and hire an attorney that is experienced in all areas of Family Law.
SELECTING A LAWYER SPECIALIZING IN
MARITAL AND FAMILY LAW
While there are many qualified lawyers in the area of marital and family law, only those who are board certified have taken the extraordinary steps to have their competence and experience evaluated. Board certification is the highest level of evaluation by the Florida Bar of the competency and experience of attorneys in specific practice areas approved by the Supreme Court of Florida. Through board certification, consumers can easily identify lawyers who are dedicated to professional excellence.
Florida Bar board certified lawyers have special knowledge, skills and proficiency in specific fields of law and professionalism and ethics in practice. Many lawyers handle marital and family law matters, but only those who are board certified can identify themselves as “specialists” or “experts” in marital and family law. Board certified marital and family lawyers are specialists who handle legal problems and civil suits arising from the family relationships of husbands, wives, parents and children. Marital and family law includes pretrial and trial processes and handling and resolving controversies before, during and after the filing and resolution of law suits.
JJ Dahl – Lake County’s first and only Board Certified Marital and Family Law Attorney
TENDING TO MONEY ISSUES IMMEDIATELY, part 2
Below are a few steps to follow to help protect your finances during your separation and divorce:
- Copy documentation about all of your assets – any investments, retirement plans, bonds, mutual funds, savings or money market accounts, etc.
- Make copies of all financial documents that show your true debts, assets, and expenses (including household and credit card bills, bank records, expenses for the children)
- Obtain a current credit report to make sure you know of all your liabilities.
- Sit down and really figure out what you are worth. Determine the worth of everything you own – household furnishings, real estate, cars, everything.
- Start keeping track of all debts incurred and money paid to each other after the date of separation. This includes money spent on joint bills, improvements to the home, moving expenses, children, insurance premiums – everything that could pertain to the two of you.
- After learning your rights by consulting with us and determining what you have in assets as well as your expenses and income, try to sit down with your spouse to see if you can work out something that is equitable. Do not do this before you have all of your documentation, however because you cannot negotiate without the facts. Do not agree to anything or sign anything without consulting your attorney.
- If you decide to pay for items for your spouse after you have separated, it is very important that a start date and a stop date are delineated. The particulars of any financial arrangement between the two of you should be put in writing so that there is no misunderstanding. Also, if you put this in writing, these payments may be tax deductible, although they will be considered taxable income to the spouse receiving support.
TENDING TO MONEY ISSUES IMMEDIATELY, part 1
Once a separation seems inevitable you must turn your attention to money issues as quickly as possible. If you wait, you may fall victim of a variety to different problems. You may find that you are responsible for credit card debt that was incurred after you moved out, or that one of your joint accounts has been wiped clean of all its assets, or that the home equity account that was there in case of emergencies now has a loan against it for $20,000.00. Do not be afraid to separate your accounts immediately. If you should end up getting back together, you can always comingle these accounts again.
Make sure all joint accounts are closed or divided when you separate. Before doing so, set up an account in your name, and make sure that you qualify for credit since your individual credit rating can be affected if you close out an account. Do not freeze accounts. One or both of you may need access to the funds for any number of reasons. With your attorney’s approval, split the money from joint accounts equally.
Coming up next: Steps to take to secure your financial stability and independence.
STEP 6: PRETRIAL CONFERENCE
After depositions, the case is usually prepared to announce a ready for trial notice, which is then sent to the court. The court has 30 to 60 days from filing of a “Notice Ready for Trial” to send a pretrial conference order and date. At that conference the actual trial date will be set depending on the length of time needed for trial. This could be anywhere from two months to six months from the pre-trial conference date.
STEP 7: TRIAL
Once the trial date is set, the fun begins. Fun you say? Yes. If after all this we have not worked out your case, you cannot wait for your day in court!
Step 4: Mediation
Mediation is required in all filed cases that do not have agreement on all terms. Mediation usually takes six to eight hours. When the mediation process occurs in your case you will receive more information from us outlining its particulars.
STEP 5: DEPOSITIONS
After mediation, the parties often conduct depositions. While it is frequently better to do depositions before mediation, many attorneys attempt mediation before deposition because most depositions cause the parties to become defensive, argumentative and vengeful. Depositions require coordinating a minimum of four parties’ calendars, causing it to be difficult to schedule.
The final two steps in the legal process involve the court trial. Our next blog goes into greater detail on these steps, which may or may not be needed, depending on the case.
When an uncontested matter becomes contested an additional retainer is required and the process called “discovery” begins. The Florida Rules governing these matters requires a lengthy list of financial documents to be provided by both sides. The law generally gives each side 30 or 45 days to provide these documents. It is common for people to require more time in gathering these documents. Sometimes people refuse to provide them so they try to ignore the request.
Discovery can involve subpoenas, requests to produce various documents and evidence and depositions. All of these things can take a few months to complete. If people have a pretty simple financial picture, discovery is generally completed within two months and we are ready to go to mediation.
Both depositions and mediations are explained in our next blog, coming soon!
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT:
STEP 2: PROPOSALS OR PETITIONS
Approximately ten business days from being retained in an uncontested matter we generate the first proposed settlement agreement. In contested matters we usually have the petition ready for your review. Sometimes a couple of drafts are necessary before anything is ready to be sent to an outside party. This time period can be short or lengthy depending on the complexity of the case.
In an uncontested matter after the draft proposal has been approved it is forwarded to the opposing party or the opposing attorney. Occasionally it is returned to us signed and we can move forward, while often the other side wants items changed in the proposal. You and the attorney will go over the requested changes and decide what can be accommodated. From there we will decide to either file and move ahead in the legal process or to make other proposals or accommodations. This is often when an uncontested matter turns contested.
Our next blog will describe the process of Discovery and what it means for you—stay informed!
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT:
STEP 1: CASE PLAN
Simple cases can be done in two months or less. More complicate cases can be six to eight months, with fiercely contested or complex cases taking a year or more.
Once you have paid your retainer and returned your signed retainer agreement, the firm is officially retained and we begin working on your case. The first few days involve data entry and clerical work including creating a physical file and a computer file. After this we begin generating a case plan. This case plan is created by the attorney and shared with the entire staff so everyone knows what direction we are going in your case and what your goals include.
Be sure to check our next blog to find out about Step Two: Proposals or Petitions.
DIVORCE OVERVIEW (WITH CHILDREN), part 4
Another factor that comes into play is alimony. Many of those who, at the time of marriage, did not want their spouse to work outside the home find themselves believing it to be unfair that they may have to pay spousal support (alimony). After all, if they are no longer married, why should one person still be obligated to provide support to the other? On the other hand, the spouse whose marital contribution including staying at home, and perhaps, raising children, may have given up secondary education or the ability to pursue an income-producing career by doing so. Should this spouse have the benefit of financial assistance after the marriage? If so, should it be long-term or short-term?
The courts, by and large, recognize these issues and the case law regarding alimony describes various options, including permanent periodic, durational, rehabilitative, and bridge-the-gap alimony. Permanent periodic alimony may be awarded after a long-term marriage, and requires the income-producing spouse to pay the other alimony until one of them dies or the recipient spouse remarries. Rehabilitative alimony is paid for a specific period of time and provides the recipient spouse with money while obtaining education or specialized training in order to get on a career track and be self-supporting. Bridge-the-gap was the new kid on the alimony block until recently when Florida law created Durational alimony. Bridge-the-gap alimony is paid for a very short period of time in an effort to assist the receiving spouse in getting over the financial burden that often occurs when transitioning from being married to being single. Durational alimony can be paid for as long as the marriage lasted. In awarding alimony, the Court must be able to justify its decisions or face the possibility of an appeal, which may overturn a decision.