Divorce Overview, part 3



Who gets the dog when you divorce?  From the picture you know who it would be!  (Just kidding, honey—I have no plans on a divorce.)  But clients often ask who gets the pets.  Under Florida family law, pets are no different than your pots and pan.  Can you believe it?  Even the judges that are pet owners and lovers can’t give visitation or time sharing for pets; they have to be divided.  In many cases, the parties naturally know who really belongs with, loves and cares for each specific pet, but in divorce we can have a lot of hurt feelings and the desire to get revenge.  What better way to get revenge than to take the other person’s beloved cat, dog, bird, horse.

I always warn my clients when negotiating not to hold their hands too tightly because that’s exactly when the other side wants to go in and pluck whatever they’re holding from them, or worse, to use emotional leverage to coerce someone into doing something they don’t want.  If pets are going to be a part of your divorce or separation, let your attorney know.  Family law attorneys really do want to help.  I even had a case once where our clients did agree to time share an animal.  One person kept the animal and routine expenses the majority of the time while the other person paid the vet bills and kept the animal when the other person was out of town.  Even though pets are considered property in a divorce, a judge will rubber stamp or enter an order enforcing any agreements you may devise for pet sharing.  We can be creative!  We love animals, too, and want to help our clients keep theirs.

While pets are priceless, there is certainly a cost to keeping them happy and healthy.  Find out about alimony payments in our next blog!

Divorce Overview, part 2



 Questions involving children are more complex and emotionally charged.  Who will the children live with during the process of and after the divorce?  Who will make the decisions about where they go to school, what activities they will participate in, whether they need braces (and who pays for them), and how often they are with the other parent?  What about vacations from school, annual trips, and summer camp?  Where will the children spend their birthdays and holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Passover, and Easter?  What about the parents’ birthdays, Mothers’ Day, and Fathers’ Day?  Usually, each parent wants an arrangement that keeps these things the same but this is not possible when considering two separate households.

Florida courts will generally give both parents shared parental responsibility.  This means each parent has a say in decisions about the child.  Time sharing varies in each case.  Parents can often divide the child’s time as they wish, as long as they are in agreement, and some can be pretty creative in a plan that is best for all.  The courts, however, do not get creative.  In LakeCounty, there is a standard arrangement that may be implemented if the parents cannot agree.

The next issue to be addressed is child support.  Parents are often under the impression that child support is based on the actual expenses related to the children.  This is not true.  Child support is based on the income of the parents.  A chart, mandated by law, is used which specifies how much money is to be paid.  The amount is based on net income.  There are several legal hoops to jump to determine “net” income.  If a child lives with Mom, Dad pays child support based on net income, not on how much money Mom actually spends on the child each month.  Child care and health insurance costs may also be taken into consideration.

What about my pets?  While they aren’t children, we understand that you may be the parent of a pet that is caught in the middle.  Stay tuned to our next blog to find out who gets the dog!

Divorce Overview, part 1



 There are certain requirements that must be met in order to obtain a divorce.  A document called the Final Judgment must be signed by a judge in order to finalize the divorce.  In Florida, the legal term for a divorce is “dissolution of marriage.”  The cost and complexity of divorce depends on the parties and issues involved.

Couples have to untangle the areas of their lives that have become intertwined, some of which are financial or material in nature, some emotional.  Some areas cannot be completely separated, such as children.

Marital assets and debts must be divided, which leads to questions such as, “Which assets are truly assets of the marriage?”, “What about engagement rings or gifts to each other during the marriage?”, “What about money inherited from a distant cousin who passed away?” or “What about the coin collection I’ve had since childhood?”

Coming next: an overview on the issues regarding children, time sharing, and child support.

Attorney Fees

I pride myself in ensuring the value of my work exceeds the cost – the whole Team does, it is one of our Firm’s values.  We more than pay for our services.

When asked to pay a retainer or an attorney bill in your family law matter, it might be hard to see that the money is well spent.  However, at the end of your alimony matter or the end of your child support matter or divorce – although sometimes it is not realized until the next tax year or when you finally sell the house or you need to enforce something a year or two down the road – you will see the value of a family law professional.

None of us are the type to try to generate unnecessary or unhelpful work just to increase a bill.  We know happy Clients pay less – we only want happy Clients.  Who doesn’t?  We want our Clients to be our best advertisement and future referral sources.   So we want to do a good job and that includes not only getting the job done but getting it done efficiently and least expensively.  We hope to keep your attorney fees down, too – but “don’t lose the forest for the trees”.

I cannot tell you how many people come to me AFTER they have signed or agreed to something that they should not have.  I cannot tell you how many Clients tell me, I wish I had hired you first or before.   I have a matter right now where my client almost gave away a $60,000 IRA because she didn’t want to pay a $5000 retainer.  She hired us as soon as she realized she could pay the $5,000 and on that issue alone come out $25,000 ahead even with paying the retainer.    We usually see our fees recouped in alimony and child support cases – a lot of people think what is the big deal with a $100 a month difference.  Well when you have an 8 year old child – that’s $1200 a year times ten years – last time I checked that is $12,000!!  I’d spend $5,000 for an attorney to get $12,000!  Imagine that same mistake with a divorce at age 45, and that is a $100 month difference for twenty years of alimony until retiring at 65.  Think about this not just from the point if you are the one paying this money, but what if you were the one who was supposed to be receiving this money and you short changed yourself $120,000 or $240,000.  I bet you would be thinking, darn I should have hired that attorney.

Do not forget, we have a hand out, How To Keep Attorney Fees Down.  Remember, if you follow our advice or our timelines and deadlines, you will keep attorney fees down.  Let us help you.  We are worth it and you are worth it.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

The changes…

As the first quarter of 2012 comes to an end (my how time flies), we have a couple of fun announcements about your favorite attorneys…
JJ has been nominated to the Board of Directors for Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, Inc. (CLSMF). CLSMF is a nonprofit law firm providing legal assistance to low-income clients through community education, legal advice, and assistance with pro se litigation. Through this position, JJ hopes to share her expertise in law, as well as fundraising and public speaking, to help those who need it most. Incidentally, JJ won their “Attorney of the Year” award again (this is the second year in a row)!

In the mean time, Tracy has resumed one of her favorite pastimes…FOOTBALL! Tracy has returned to her position as Center for the Orlando Anarchy, Central Florida’s semi-pro women’s tackle football team. Yes…that does say women’s tackle football. In her fifth season (with a short hiatus during law school and another couple of years off just being a mom), she is back to her old ways and has the bruises to prove it. We invite you to come out and join us for a game! Home games (April 14th, April 28th, May 19th, and June 2nd) are at 7:00 p.m. at East Ridge High School. We’d love to see you there, as we cheer on #72! Go Anarchy!

And for those things staying the same…

As most people who have been involved in a family law matter will agree, laws are not always fair. As a matter of fact, the joke in our office is that FAIR is a four-letter “F” word, and we are not allowed to use it. The reason for this is, more often than not in a family law case, there are no winners – nobody walks away from the courtroom feeling as if they have gotten what they deserved. This is especially true for the person who ends up with an obligation to pay what is commonly referred to as “permanent periodic alimony.” While it may seem “unfair,” especially as the payor tells the story (you know…the one where he/she is slaving away for the rest of his/her life while the ex-spouse is sitting on the couch eating bon-bons), there are circumstances under which such spousal support is, in fact, appropriate.

Thankfully, the Florida Legislature understands that such circumstances exist. During the 2012 Legislative Session, our lawmakers took a stand against a special interest group called Floridians For Alimony Reform (FAR) which sought to modify existing alimony laws to benefit a small group of citizens – specifically those “on the hook” for permanent periodic alimony. While the system may not be perfect (I challenge you to find one that is), the Legislature recognized that existing laws, as they are written, allow for a balance of both parties’ circumstances (examining both the paying party’s ability to pay, while also looking at the recipient spouse’s need for financial assistance) and, absent an agreement otherwise, is always modifiable upon an unanticipated substantial change of circumstances.

So…as of right now, Florida’s alimony laws stand as they were, but it’s only a matter of time before it’s in front of the Legislature again. We’ll keep you posted!

Happy Holidays from the Team!

The holidays are upon us and before we know it they’ll be gone again.  It’s the time of year when we are supposed to stop and take a moment to give thanks for what we have, to share joy with others, and to celebrate the things that are most important to us.  Unfortunately, we often get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of shopping, wrapping, baking, cooking, and stressing out over all of the above, that we forget what the season is all about.

From our family to yours, we wish you nothing but the best this holiday season.  Be sure to take time to appreciate all the wonderful things in your life (namely family and friends), and to savor the time you have with those close to you.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Dahl Family Law Group!!