J.J. Dahl is Board Certified in Marital and Family Law. What does that mean?

Board certification recognizes attorneys’ special knowledge, skills and proficiency in various areas of law and professionalism and ethics in practice. Certification is the highest level of evaluation by The Florida Bar of the competency and experience of attorneys by the Supreme Court of Florida. Board certified Florida Bar members are the only Florida attorneys allowed to identify themselves as “Board Certified,” “Specialist,” “Expert” in their area of law. As of January, 2012, there are only 279 attorneys that are Board Certified in Marital and Family Law in the state, with J.J. Dahl being the only one in Lake County.

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What should I do if I have been served a Petition (for Dissolution of Marriage, Establishment of Paternity, etc.)?

In most cases, you will have twenty (20) days to file an answer preserving your legal rights. If you do not file an answer, there may be a default filed against you in your case. Because time is of the essence, you should seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney immediately.


Can I speak to and/or e-mail an attorney just to get some advice before I set up a consultation or hire her?

No. A consultation, either in person or telephonically, must be scheduled through our Administrative Assistant. During your consultation, the attorney will be able to assess the facts and circumstances surrounding your matter, and advice specific to your situation can be given at that time.


What is your retainer fee?

Unfortunately, we cannot answer this question until we have met with you to discuss the specifics of your matter. Retainers (as well as the total cost associated with your case) vary depending on several factors, including, but not limited to, whether your matter is contested or uncontested, the position taken by the other party and/or opposing counsel, and the complexity of the issues to be handled.


I’m not sure I want a divorce – can I get a legal separation?

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a legal separation in Florida. Once you are married, you remain so until a Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage. Florida does have something called “Support Notwithstanding Dissolution of Marriage.” It is similar to what other states call legal separation. There are also several other legal steps that can be taken to establish rights and responsibilities of you and your spouse during a period of separation. If this is something you are interested in, you should consult an experienced family law attorney to assist you.


What is meant by an “uncontested” divorce?

In an uncontested divorce, both parties are able to come to an agreement regarding all the outstanding issues in their case. This includes things like a parenting plan and timesharing schedule for any minor and/or dependent children of the parties, distribution of marital assets and liabilities, spousal support, child support, and attorney’s fees and costs. In the event these things are agreed to by both parties, a document memorializing the agreement between the parties (generally referred to as a “Marital Settlement Agreement”) will be prepared. This Agreement would then be filed with the Court and ultimately “accepted” by the Court in a Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage.


If my divorce is “contested”, does that mean it will go to a Trial?

Approximately 90% of domestic relations cases are settled before a Trial. This can occur through Mediation, Settlement Conferences, or written negotiations at various times and stages between filing (starting) and trial (we cannot say ending, because Trial does not end the case).


What is mediation?

Mediation is a confidential process wherein a neutral third party facilitates the negotiations between both sides and assists in reaching a resolution of the outstanding issues. If and when an agreement is reached at mediation, the agreement is reduced to writing, signed by the parties, and filed with the Court, much like a Marital Settlement Agreement would be.


What can I do to begin preparing for the divorce process?

First and foremost, you should consult an experienced family law attorney to advise you of your rights and get advice specific to your circumstances. Second, you should begin gathering financial documentation regarding existing marital assets and liabilities (as well as those which may have existed over the last two years). This includes bank statements, credit card and other liability statements, documents related to any and all retirement assets, etc. This will help you to gain a better understanding of what will need to be addressed and distributed in the divorce. Third, begin to collect information related to your monthly income and expenses. This should include income and expenses as a married couple, as well attempting to anticipate how things may look once you are divorced.


What is “parental responsibility” and how is it determined?

Parental Responsibility determines how major decisions involving the minor children (e.g., education, medical care, etc.) will be made. Pursuant to Florida law, “The court shall order that the parental responsibility for a minor child be shared by both parents unless the court finds that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child.” It is very rare for a Court to order anything besides shared parenting except in cases where the police or DCF have found abuse, abandonment, or neglect.


What are “parenting plans” and “timesharing schedules” and how are they determined?

Parenting plans and timesharing schedules address the issues which used to be called “custody” and “visitation”. Florida has removed the terms “custody”, “visitation”, “Primary Residential Responsibility”, and “Secondary Parental Responsibility” from its divorce and paternity statutes. As a result of these changes in terminology, parenting plans and timesharing schedules create a formal document establishing which parent the child will reside with and what days/nights the child will spend with the other parent, while also addressing issues related to communication, transportation, and some expenses of the children.

Florida law establishes a list of twenty (20) factors the Court is to consider when establishing a parenting plan and timesharing schedule for minor children. Some of the factors include:

–          The willingness and ability of each parent to foster and encourage a loving, supportive relationship between the child and the other parent.

–          The willingness and ability of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child.

–          The willingness and ability of each parent to keep the other parent informed of issues and activities of the child.

–          The role of each parent prior to and during the litigation process.


How is the amount of child support determined?

Child support in Florida is based on a very specific formula. This formula takes into account information such as the net income of each party (gross income minus taxes), insurance expenses for each party, insurance expenses for the minor child(ren), the federal income tax dependency exemption, and the specific timesharing schedule of the parties. Depending on the circumstances of the case, day care expenses and unreimbursed medical expenses may also be included in the child support calculation. There are a few, very specific, circumstances under which the Court may deviate from child support guidelines, though these situations are not common.


What is alimony, and when is it awarded?

Alimony, also known as “spousal support”, is a monthly obligation from one former spouse to the other. This obligation may be temporary or permanent and may be modifiable or non-modifiable. Whether or not alimony is awarded, as well as the type of alimony awarded, depends on the specific facts of the case. To determine if your case is an alimony case, you need to consult an experienced family law attorney.

In determining the amount and duration of an alimony award, the Court considers several factors, including, but not limited to:

–          One party’s need for alimony and the other party’s ability to pay.

–          The standard of living established during the marriage.

–          The length of the marriage.

–          The contributions of each party to the marriage

–          The age and health condition of the parties


At what age can my child tell the Court his/her preference regarding where he/she wants to live?

While it is commonly believed that children can choose where they want to live at the age of 12 or 13 years, this is a misconception. Some other states have set ages, such as 14 or 16. In Florida, other areas of law, like guardianship cases where both parents are deceased, the set age for addressing the preference of the child is 12. In Florida family law cases, however, there is no specific age at which the Court will consider the preference of the child. The Florida Family Law Statutes consider the “reasonable preference” of the child as one of the 22 other statutory factors for determining a parenting plan and/or timesharing schedule. However, even this is only in cases where “the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.” This is evaluated on a case by case, child by child, basis, looking at, not only the child’s age, but also his/her academic record, general behavior, community and extracurricular involvement, etc. A special hearing is required to examine this. Many child psychologists recommend children not express a preference, as this puts them in the middle of their parents’ litigation and harms them. As such, most Judges view parents negatively when they ask to have their child express an opinion or “pick sides.” There are instances where it is appropriate, but those are the exceptions, not the rule.

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