Law Offices Of Andrew Merlo, P.A.

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Law Offices Of Andrew Merlo, P.A.
Hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer is not only worth it, it’s absolutely essential. So many crimes are presumptive; when you’re talking about your freedom, living at home, sleeping in your own bed, eating at your own dining room table and getting up and going to work in the morning versus months or even years in the Department of Corrections, it is absolutely worth it to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer represent you when you face criminal charges. How do you know if you have the right lawyer? You need to meet with lawyers face-to-face, you need to share with those lawyers the facts and circumstances of your case, you need to ask the lawyers if they have ever handled a case involving the same or similar charges to yours and you need to ask the lawyers if they have ever tried a case before a jury involving the same or similar charges to yours.
My law firm handles all types of family law cases: original divorce and paternity matters, enforcement actions, modifications, dependency, adoption, etc. Almost all issues in the typical family law case fall into one of six categories in which I can help. Three categories deal with child-related issues and the other three categories concern adult issues. The three child-related categories are time-sharing, parental responsibility and child support. In Florida, the term “timesharing” is used instead of “custody” and “visitation” to establish which parent the children will spend time with. There is also the decision-making aspect of raising kids, which is called “parental responsibility”. Child support is the third item and is the legal obligation of both parents. The three adult-related categories are the equitable distribution of marital property, alimony and legal fees. Equitable distribution involves dividing marital assets and liabilities with the exclusion of non-marital property. Unless there is a very good reason for it not to be equal, the division of assets and liabilities should be fifty-fifty. It’s just a matter of finding hidden assets or fighting over the true value of assets or liabilities. The goal is to ensure a fair outcome where the client receives everything they are entitled to receive. Family court cases can be contested or uncontested. No one wants to fight, but it starts out that way in a lot of cases. I am very good at being diplomatic and negotiating when it’s appropriate, but I am also very good at taking the gloves off and having a knock-down, drag-off fight if I need to. I am more than capable of doing that. In fact, that’s how litigation lawyers make the most money. With that said, my overall philosophy with these cases is to always try to save the marriage and do everything possible before throwing in the towel. It’s important to be mature, civilized and respectful toward the other side. If the other side is not willing to do that or just wants to fight, then I’ll go down that dark alley and fight until the end. However, that is my last choice, because no one wins when that happens. In addition, both sides wind up paying the lawyers more than is necessary, and there is certainly more stress involved. Sometimes people just refuse to settle. If that’s the case, then we will go to trial. A lot of divorce and family law attorneys are excellent at negotiating and talking the talk, but when it comes down to actually going to trial, they fold like a house of cards; they’ll either talk their clients into settling on unfavorable terms, or they will be weak at trial. Every case is different. I happen to have done very well for my clients at trial, and I’ve gotten very good results.
Each party should hire their own lawyer. A single lawyer would have a conflict of interest representing both parties. You are not entitled to have the court appoint a lawyer for you like in criminal court. Also, you are not required to have an attorney represent you in a family court case. So, you must decide: should I hire a lawyer? Or should I represent myself? You can represent yourself, and you can fix your own car, and you can diagnose your own medical condition, and you can do a lot of things yourself. Due to a lack of funds, some people have no choice but to represent themselves. But, common sense dictates that if there is any way possible for you to hire a professional, experienced attorney, then that is exactly what you should do. Anything is possible. You might wind up with the same outcome representing yourself. But, in my opinion, it would certainly be advantageous to hire your own lawyer. There are rules of court, rules of evidence, rules of procedure, hearsay, and other things of that nature, and even a pro se person is going to be held to the same standards as someone who is represented by an attorney. It would be unfortunate to receive a negative result based on a technicality of not following the rules or not properly complying with the procedure. If you can afford an attorney, you should definitely obtain one.
Florida is considered a no-fault state, which means you do not need to have any specific reasons for seeking a divorce (such as adultery, abandonment or abuse). A person must simply testify that the marriage is “irretrievably broken”. Those are the words that the judge needs to hear. Bad behavior may be relevant if there’s a waste of marital assets. Otherwise, your judge probably doesn’t want to know the reasons you’re getting a divorce.
Some states require couples to be separated for months and months after filing for a divorce before granting the Final Judgment. Not Florida. Florida does not require you to wait or be separated for any period. There is only a 20-day waiting period from the day you’re served with the petition for dissolution. So, it’s like the due process requirements for the summons. By statute, the judge is not supposed to grant the final dissolution until after the 20 days expire.
It is very common for divorced people to return to court. Over time you or your ex-spouse’s income can substantially change, which can dramatically affect child support and alimony. Timesharing schedules often must be adjusted to accommodate changing work schedules or school commitments. After a divorce is finalized and the Final Judgment is signed, there are only two things you can do: enforce the existing court ruling or modify the current ruling. Enforcing the existing Final Judgment means asking for something that was already agreed or ordered by the judge, but your ex-spouse is not obeying. Modifying a Final Judgment means asking to change something that has already been agreed or ruled upon. In Florida, there is no grace-period or limitation on modifying child support, meaning that you could get a divorce and a child support order established today. If you win the lottery tomorrow, then your spouse would be entitled to go back to court and seek modification of the existing court order. To get the modification, the legal standard is a substantial, involuntary, permanent and unanticipated change in circumstances. Receiving a significant raise or losing a job altogether would meet the legal standard for modification. Modification is typically in regards to post final judgment rulings and is very common with alimony or financial awards for child support. Sometimes a time-sharing schedule or visitation schedule needs to be modified based on the change of the children’s schedules or the parties’ obligations.
The divorce process starts when someone files a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. The Petition will include information regarding your demands for custody, time-sharing, child support, alimony and the equitable distribution of assets. Once served with the papers, the other side might file a counter-petition saying that they also want a divorce, as well as custody, visitation and child support. Next, there must be an exchange of financial information, such as bank statements, credit card statements, investment statements, records pertaining to properties or automobiles that you own, assets, liabilities, insurances and other things of that nature. If you are asking a judge to divide the marital property, then the judge needs to have a complete picture of what makes up the marital estate. If there are issues that need to be addressed while the divorce is pending, then we can ask the judge for “temporary” relief. Once financial records are exchanged, you would expect informal settlement negotiations to begin between the lawyers. Alternatively, formal negotiations might occur through a third-party mediator. If we can resolve the case at mediation, then that’s terrific; if we cannot, then we will tell the judge and request a trial date. The discovery phase involves the exchange of financial records and lasts until just before the trial begins. It involves demanding records, issuing subpoenas and taking depositions of witnesses who may testify. We conduct investigations, carrying out due diligence and get a clear picture of the entire marital estate and the parties involved. We would then get our trial date and work towards preparing for trial. The parties or the judge may decide that we could benefit from mediation. If we settle at mediation, a written agreement would be drawn up. In divorce cases, a settlement agreement must be in writing to be enforceable. That written agreement is signed by everyone and presented to the judge. Assuming the judge finds it acceptable, you will be granted a final judgment for dissolution of marriage. The judge would probably be very happy that you were able to resolve it without the necessity of a trial. Mediation is typically better for both the parents and children, and is typically more cost-effective than litigation. However, if the other side will not agree to anything that is fair at mediation, then there may not be anything to lose by going to trial.
To prepare for an impending divorce, you should photocopy every document you can get your hands on. Compile a complete set of financial records, tax returns from the previous several years, bank statements, credit card statements, titles, deeds, insurance policies, appraisals, photographs, and anything else that you don’t want to disappear. A lot of times, the parties separate and one spouse will take all the financial records with them. Under those circumstances, we are at a tremendous disadvantage to recreate what we can remember or what we can determine exists. If you recognize that there is a real risk of divorce your future, then you should definitely make a duplicate set of records and keep them in a safe place.
An uncontested divorce case will take at least 20 days to get resolved. Other cases can take years to get resolved. The average divorce takes six months or so to get resolved. It comes down to getting the paperwork filed, exchanging financial information, attempting mediation, and if necessary, requesting a trial date. If the judge has a busy schedule, then you may not be able to get a trial date for several months. If things move quickly and everyone is doing what they are supposed to do, no one is asking for extensions, and no one is dragging their feet, then there is no reason that a divorce cannot be resolved within six months. If people start asking for extra time for one reason or another and not doing what they’re supposed to do, then a case can drag on for years. I’ve dealt with a nine-month marriage taking three years to get resolved. You have to pick your battles and decide what you want to fight for. You have to do a cost-benefit analysis in terms of money, stress and time. There are a lot of factors that come into play as far as how long the divorce can take, but six months is the average length of time.
Mediation is a way of trying to resolve disagreements by compromise and negotiating. A case starts when someone files for divorce, and it will end in one of two ways: by the parties making their own settlement, or by going to trial and letting the judge decide all issues. People are either going to decide what happens to their assets, income and children, or the judge will make the decision for them. In Palm Beach County, a trial date will not be granted until the parties have attempted mediation. With that said, you are entitled to a trial. However, mediation could end up saving you a lot of money, time and stress. In addition, anything that occurs during mediation remains confidential unless an agreement is reached. So, there is very little downside to attempting mediation.
In Florida, alimony is based on several factors, including one side’s need for alimony versus the other side’s ability to pay it. There are multiple types of alimony. When the divorce is pending, there is what’s called temporary alimony, which just maintains the status quo. For example, if one party has been paying the mortgage and car payment and the other has been paying the utility bills, then that arrangement could be maintained on a temporary basis during the divorce process. Likewise, one party might also directly pay his spouse a certain amount of alimony on a temporary basis. Once the divorce is finalized, lifetime or durational alimony may be awarded, which would mean that one spouse would receive a certain amount of money every month for as long as the paying spouse is alive or until the receiving spouse remarries. There’s also bridge-the-gap alimony, which helps someone transition from being supported in a relationship to being on their own. Rehabilitative alimony has a purpose associated with it, such as the purpose of getting a nursing degree in order to be self-sufficient. When making the decision about alimony, the court will consider the incomes of each party, the lifestyle that the parties have become accustomed to during the marriage, and other things of that nature. People often get divorced while only one spouse is working outside the home and the other is raising the kids. If the parties have enough money to maintain that arrangement, it might be in the best interest of the children to keep the arrangement in place after the divorce. In Florida, there’s no formula for determining the amount of alimony; it is determined on a case-by-case basis. Child support, however, is based on a mathematical formula that takes into account the parents’ income and schedules.
If it’s permanent alimony, it could last until the person receiving or paying it passes away, or until the person who is receiving it remarries. If a settlement agreement was reached through mediation that included a stipulation of it being non-modifiable, then the payments might continue regardless of whether or not the receiving spouse remarries or one of the spouses passes away. Alimony is generally modifiable, while child support is generally non-modifiable. As more and more families become two-income households, courts are moving away from awarding permanent alimony. Florida happens to have some favorable alimony statutes in it. At the moment, there is a seven/17 rule, which means that a short-term marriage is one that lasted less than seven years, and a long-term marriage is one that lasted more than 17 years. A marriage that lasted between seven and 17 years is considered an intermediate marriage. For a long-term marriage, the judge is supposed to presume entitlement to alimony. For a short-term marriage, permanent alimony typically won’t be awarded. There might be bridge-the-gap alimony, temporary alimony, or a lump sum of money awarded for a short-term marriage, but very rarely will permanent alimony be awarded. For an intermediate marriage, it could go either way; if the marriage lasted closer to 17 years than seven years, the judge might be more inclined to award permanent alimony, and if it lasted closer to seven years than 17 years, then the judge might be less inclined to award permanent alimony. Depending on the ages of parties, their earning history, their education and their assets, they may have an independent income after the divorce. So, there are a lot of factors that come into play and there is no hard and fast rule as there is with child support. A good rule of thumb is that alimony will last for approximately half of the duration of the marriage. So, for a 10-year marriage, alimony may be awarded for five years. It might start out at a higher amount and decrease each month or each year. Ultimately, these decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
When awarding alimony, the first issue a judge must consider is: Does the person requesting financial support NEED the alimony? Assuming the person requesting alimony can convince the judge they truly NEED financial assistance from the other party, then the next issue the judge must decide is: How much ABILITY TO PAY does that person have to pay the other person alimony? If the person requesting alimony has sufficient independent income to meet their needs, then there will not be a need for alimony. So, you will decrease your chance of being awarded alimony if you do anything to decrease your need. For example, if you never worked during the entire marriage and then you get a job while the divorce is going on, theoretically your need will be reduced. In general, one side’s bad behavior will not affect entitlement to alimony. As a no-fault state, adultery is only relevant in Florida if there is waste of marital assets on the paramour. If you and I are married and I buy my girlfriend a diamond Tiara with our retirement savings, I’ve wasted our retirement savings on my paramour, and you, as my wife, would have the right to say, “That’s waste, I want my half back.” It’s a possibility, but it’s very rare. I don’t want to turn anyone away by saying it’s not worth it, but I would rather talk on an individual level about it. Claiming marital waste is a battle and it’s tough to prevail, but I have been successful in claiming it. As far as equitable distribution and marital waste, adultery may be relevant. As far as alimony goes, it doesn’t matter; the judge will not want to get into the he-said-she-said discussion because it doesn’t matter when evaluating need and ability.
When the average person talks about children in a divorce, they usually refer to the parent having the majority of the time as the parent with “custody” and the other parent as having “visitation”. In Florida, however, the terms “custody” and “visitation” are no longer used. Rather they are referred to as “parental responsibility” and “timesharing” in this state. Under the law, both parents typically have equal decision making rights over the major aspects of their children. This is also what is called “shared parental responsibility”, as compared to “sole parental responsibility”, where only one parent would make all the decisions regarding a particular aspect of the child. This could involve specific issues regarding education or health of the child and which doctor to use, as examples. If the parents cannot agree, then the judge may appoint one parent sole parental responsibility to make those particular decisions. When the word “custody” is used, many people think of it as who is going to have the child the majority of the time. In Florida courts that is referred to as “time-sharing”. It is the schedule of where the children are going to spend the nights. There is a schedule that is established, called the “time-sharing schedule”, which specifies which nights are with mom and which are with dad. There are many different schedules and variations that can be put in place. A good timesharing schedule will be specific and address details like birthdays, holidays, vacations, school breaks, etc.
Every divorce case in Florida involving children must have what is called a “Parenting Plan” established, which sets forth parental responsibility, time-sharing and other details. Generally, both parents are awarded shared responsibility over the decisions, and it also sets forth the visitation schedule or the time-sharing schedule. It must be specific and must have a default schedule in place. In Palm Beach County, there is what is referred to as a “model parental time-sharing” schedule. Other jurisdictions have their own defaults but a normal schedule might be something like alternating weekends and sometime mid-week timesharing, for example. Mid-week time-sharing can be either equal or it can be more nights with one parent over the other. The default model parental time-sharing schedule in Palm Beach County grants one parent with the majority of the time – every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday overnight. Every single Thursday overnight would go to the other parent. One parent might have the children Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday and the other parent would have every Thursday and then alternate weekends. Other families may decide that equally dividing the time would be best for their children. More and more families are moving towards fifty-fifty time-sharing schedules. If you feel 50/50 is best, perhaps your schedule might have the children with mom every Monday and Tuesday, and with dad every Wednesday and Thursday overnight. As you can see there are many different possibilities but every schedule has to take into consideration what is best for the child and what makes the most sense for the family. Parties are expected to be reasonably flexible, but there also must be a default schedule in place to avoid conflicts for those times when the parties cannot agree. The courts are going to hope the parents can work out any issues amongst themselves. If you can, great. The parents are always free and able to agree amongst themselves to any visitation schedule and the courts are more than likely going to have no problem with that. However, if for some reason a conflict arises and the default schedule cannot be complied with, it is the responsibility of the parent who has the child to make arrangements to find childcare while he or she is unable to follow the schedule. Another very important factor to consider when establishing a time-sharing schedule is the total number of overnights the children will be with each parent. Each parents’ total number of overnights will have a direct impact on the amount of child support. The more overnights a child spends with one parent the more credit that parent gets in regard to child support. So, a father who has the children only 80 overnights per year will pay more child support than if he had the children 150 overnights per year.
Relocation is when a parent moves 50 or more miles away for more than 60 days. Florida has a relocation statute that sets forth the procedure to be followed when a parent feels they need to permanently relocate. If you intend to relocate, then you must first go back to court. You are obligated to have the court approve the relocation in advance before doing so. You must also provide the other parent with notice of your intent to relocate. The parent who gets the notice has to respond within a certain amount of time. If the parent does not respond in a timely manner, it is going to be presumed there is no objection to relocation. If the other parent does object, which is often the case, there has to be a trial or a hearing and the judge will decide whether or not it is in the child’s best interest for the relocation to take place. No one can stop the parent from the move, but they cannot take the child with them. It requires the court approval and it requires strictly adhering to the relocation statute.
Florida courts generally feel it is detrimental to have a child testify against either parent. However, there are procedures for when it is allowed, but you have to first get the permission from the judge before a child will be permitted to do so. Even with permission, the child’s wishes are only a single factor of what is best for the child. There is no law in Florida where a child can testify once he reaches a certain age. Generally speaking, the child’s wishes are relevant and the older the child gets the more relevance his wishes become. For example, if a 4-year old child says, “I want to live with mommy”, then the judge is going to say, “That is nice but the child needs to see both parents”. However, if it is a 17-year old daughter saying, “I want to live with my mom”, the judge is going to give the 17-year old who can demonstrate sufficient maturity and understanding of the implications of their statement, a lot more weight. Again, there is no clear cut-off line; there is no age rule. The main factor is whether the child has the maturity to understand what it is that they are testifying about and the ability to tell the truth.
Battles over timesharing with the children can be some of the ugliest fights that I am involved in as a divorce litigator. Some parents insist on exactly fifty-fifty everything. Anything less, no matter how slight, is a deal breaker and it is over. They will fight till the last penny. They will fight with their last ounce of energy and their last breath to get fifty-fifty. Under those circumstances, it is going to be a battle till the end that may take more than a year (or years) to conclude. There is not supposed to be a presumption in favor of moms or dads in Florida when it comes to custody. Statutorily it is supposed to be exactly equal. However, courts do like maintaining the status quo, meaning they like continuing what has been working for a family. For example, say mom is taking care of most of the responsibilities regarding children and the parents are fine with keeping that arrangement. These parents are in agreement to an unequal timesharing arrangement or they are happy with what is called the Palm Beach model schedule of time-sharing, which is not equal. If people can come to an agreement or an understanding, a resolution of the time sharing, the cases can settle rather quickly. Once the time-sharing schedule is put in place, we can then calculate the amount of child support. As far as time sharing, any case can be done on an uncontested basis through very quick settlement when the people are communicating well and acting mature. However, you are fighting over children and many people will fight until they can’t fight any longer. It is maybe not the wisest decision, but it is the decision many spouses make. You might not even be the one making that decision. You might be on the opposite end and if so, you have to defend.
There are many reasons why someone may need to have a Parenting Plan modified. After the divorce is finalized, you are only going back the court for two possible reasons. You are either going to enforce what is ruled on, or you are going to modify what is ruled on. When you want to change what has been ruled on, the legal standard says there must be a substantial, permanent and unanticipated change in circumstances from what is currently in effect. If you are talking about modifying time-sharing, you are talking about the visitation schedule. The reasons to request a timesharing modification could be because of a job change or a change in school schedules or locations, for example, amongst other things. Modification of child support based on a change of someone’s income is much more common than the modification of timesharing. Let’s say at the time of the divorce, the mom has a certain income level and the father had a certain income level. At some point in the future that income is probably going to change. If that is the case, then the standard is 15% or $50. If your child support amount is going to increase or decrease by that 15% or $50 change, then you qualify for the modification of child support. Again, whether child support or some other condition requiring a modification such as timesharing or relocation, there has to be substantial, permanent, unanticipated change in circumstances. If you can present and convince the judge of that change of circumstances, the judge will grant the modification. Always keep in mind, the change that you are seeking has to be in the best interest of the child. That is always a requirement.
The parent who earns more money than the other parent will generally be the payor of child support in a divorce. In Florida, child support is governed by statute §61.30 and there is a mathematical calculation performed to determine the amount of child support. For the most part, who pays child support in a divorce is governed by the incomes of both parents and what the Florida child support guidelines dictate should be paid. Judges look at the number of overnights that the children spend with each parent and they look at the parents’ combined net incomes. They calculate the amount of child support that the higher earning parent is going to pay to the lower earning parent based on what the statutory guidelines establish should be paid. Even with the statutory child support guidelines in place, there are still many areas where people litigate and fight. Some people may try to hide or understate their true income. You also have to take into consideration issues such as the taxes that are paid by the parties, health insurance premiums and uncovered medical expenses of the children, the daycare expenses and other things like that that can have an impact on the amount of child support.
Maybe, and maybe not. If you think about it logically, if both parents are earning the same amount of money annually and both parents have the same amount of overnights with the children, then in theory, you would think that neither parent should pay the other any child support. That might be the case. But then again, it might not be the case if you look at all the other things that have to be taken into consideration. These can include who claims the kids for tax purposes and which parent pays the health insurance premium for the children and the children’s daycare expenses and things like that. Even though there could be equal time and equal income, it is not necessarily true that there is going to be no child support paid.
You first have to file an action requesting court-ordered child support. Usually, it is filed as part of a divorce action or a paternity action but it does not necessarily have to be limited to those two scenarios. Next, you have to determine the true net income of each parent and then you determine a timesharing schedule establishing where the children will be spending their overnights. The total number of overnights with each parent is input into a calculation along with the parties’ respective net incomes and an amount of child support is determined. Actually getting a court order in place to receive your first child support payment can take several months. The case has to be filed first and a court action initiated. You can ask for temporary, immediate child support. Most judges are first going to require mediation. The parties are probably going to have to also exchange financial documentation prior to mediation and these things can take time. Once mediation has taken place, it may still take some time to get in front of the judge. The judge is the one who controls his or her scheduling calendar. We will do everything in our power to expedite the process. Although we will immediately push for expedited treatment or to get in front of the judge as fast as possible, it still can take several months before you begin receiving regular child support payments each month. One thing is for certain – the sooner you start the process, the sooner you will start getting monthly payments.
Once the proper amount of child support is established, the court issues an order requiring the amount of the child support payment going forward. Before a child support order is put in place, the parties can agree on a temporary amount and make voluntary payments amongst themselves and that could be recognized by the court. But if there is no agreement and you are talking about forcing one parent to pay against their wishes, then it would require a court order and that would happen after the case is filed. You engage in some exchange of financial disclosure with the other side and you probably attempt mediation either successfully or not and then you go in front of the judge. You tell the judge that you settled at mediation and make them start paying. Or you tell the judge that you were not able to settle at mediation and that you need a hearing. The judge will give you a child support hearing at that point if needed. It can take some time to receive your first payment. So, in addition to ordering child support be paid going forward, judges can also require that additional child support be paid retroactively to the date support was first requested.
Child support can be modified at any time and to do so means you have to be able to prove to the judge that there has been a substantial material and permanent change in circumstances that was involuntary. That is the legal standard that you have to allege and prove. It can be modified when either the expenses change or the incomes change in a substantial way. When you calculate the new incomes of the parties and you run the child support calculation, in order to be entitled to the modification of the child support amount, the new child support amount has to be different by at least 15 percent or $50.
The current statute says that child support after a divorce is generally paid until the age of 18. It can go beyond the age of 18 if the child is in high school with an expectation of graduation before their 19th birthday. There are other exceptions, such as if the child is emancipated. With a child with special needs, a disabled child or a dependent child, so to speak, child support may continue beyond the child’s 18th birthday. A new law in 2011 requires a termination date to be included in all new child support orders. In any agreements or court orders entered after 2011, it is not supposed to be required to return to court for your child support to terminate. However, if you are one of the folks who had a settlement or an agreement or court order prior to October 2011, then your child support does not automatically terminate on the child’s 18th birthday and you are required to return to court yourself. It is your obligation to go to court and ask the judge to stop the child support based on the child turning 18 and reaching the age of majority. It would need to happen for each child as they turn 18.
If you are not receiving your child support payment from the other parent then you have the right to take them back to court to enforce that payment. It is every parent’s duty to support their children financially, whether or not they are actually seeing the child or not. There are many remedies available to you to enforce the payment. If you can show that the other side has the ability to pay and is voluntarily choosing not to pay then you can seek to have the judge hold that party in contempt of court even up to incarceration as a possible remedy. You can seek to have the non-payors driver’s license suspended. You can seek garnishment of wages directly from his employer. If the employer does not comply, the employer can also be responsible for the payment. The child support arrearage will not go away, it cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, and it is subject to additional attorney’s fee. Not only are you entitled to collect the child support you are owed, you are also entitled to reimbursement of all your reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in pursuing that child support.
The common issues in regards to child support litigation are when parties try to hide their true income or try to overstate their actual expenses. They also fight over the time-sharing schedule, recognizing that timesharing is a direct factor on the amount of child support that they pay. Most parents recognize and are more than agreeable to pay the statutory amount of child support that they are required to pay. When circumstances happen that they just can no longer comply or despite their best efforts, they cannot pay what they are currently required to pay, then child support modification actions are very hotly contested. People get used to receiving a certain amount of money and they depend on it. There is always skepticism and distrust about whether someone’s income has really changed justifying a modification of child support.
You can go to mediation without an attorney, but you are risking important rights that you may have by making a legal agreement without representation of counsel. Even if you agree to the terms, if you are not an attorney yourself, you may be walking away from things that are due to you. Your attorney can protect you and help you devise an agreement that is in YOUR best interest and the best interest of your family. If you choose to go this route, at the very least have your attorney review your agreement before you sign it! You hired an attorney to fight for you, don’t take away their weapons.
An agreement made at mediation can be operated very quickly. There is no need to wait for additional hearings and steps before the judge. Family court systems are often quite busy, so you may have to wait a considerable length of time for appointments before the court. Mediation is typically a lot more flexible.
There are some special circumstances where mediation may not work for you. Talk to your attorney about your options. If you have someone pressuring you to agree who has abused you in the past, you can seek legal protection from that person. Sometimes this includes a restraining order or injunction, but your attorney is the best person to help you.
The reality is that every case is different. Your mediator may not have handled a case that is exactly like yours but is trained in dispute resolution, regardless of the complexity of the case. The more complicated the case and the more issues that need to be agreed upon can mean a longer time spent at your mediation, but this is not always the case. Some individuals can’t find common ground on simple issues and their mediation may take longer than one with complicated facts but more agreeable parties. Mediators are used to looking at each case individually. It is best to have your attorney with you to make sure that everything that needs to be resolved in your case is resolved at mediation.
No. The mediator is there to assist the parties in reaching decisions. They do not unilaterally decide anything. They do not make rulings or create binding agreements and they do not decide who “wins” at mediation.
Basically, every type of case that is involved in a family law court goes to mediation. This can include dissolution of marriage, child related matters including time-sharing and child support agreements, partition actions, alimony, etc. Mediation is used in other matters that are not family law related as well, but family law mediators are certified specifically to handle family law matters.
Family law mediators must be certified through the Supreme Court of Florida. Most mediators are experienced attorneys or have advanced degrees in psychology. To become a certified mediator, a qualified individual takes a certification course approved by the court system and then completes an application and mentoring hours. It is not the same as sitting down with a friend and coming up with a plan. This person knows what they’re doing and they have helped others like you before. They also have more time to individually get to hear both sides of the story and to understand your case, a luxury that most judges don’t have.
If you reach a settlement agreement at your mediation, that is a final contract between you and the other party. It is filed with the courts and is enforceable. You must adhere to this agreement, just as the other party must adhere to this agreement. You can, however, seek to modify your agreement in the future, just as you might after a settlement at trial. This type of modification would be appropriate if you have a change of circumstances, like a significant, permanent change in salary, or if a parent is relocating in the case of child custody agreement.
Mediation is typically scheduled by your attorney, who has useful contacts with mediators that they have used in the past and know are helpful in pursuing peaceful negotiations. However you can find a mediator on your own, but it is best to be represented by your attorney whenever you are deciding on a legally binding agreement.
You can schedule a mediation before filing a petition if you choose, although most people file first and then use mediation as a secondary step to avoid trial. Mediation at an early stage can help save a lot of money in legal fees.
Typically no. The family law court usually requires that you go to mediation prior to appearing before the court and at the very least, before setting a date for a final trial. This is particularly true in Palm Beach County. The good news is that you don’t have to try to work through your issues on your own. The mediator is there to help negotiate and you can bring your attorney who is there to help you!
Mediation is essentially a meeting where both parties sit down with a mediator, who is a neutral third party. The goal of mediation is to resolve the dispute, so the best outcome of a mediation would be to reach an agreement that both parties are comfortable with and agree to a settlement. Usually, this process includes determining the goals of each party and coming up with the best solution to give each party what they want.
When you find out that you may have to move or if the other parent has decided to move, you need to call right away. The courts do not look favorably on parents who abandon their prior agreement and move without making a solid plan for their children. You need help right away, before you move, to make sure that you are protected and your kids are protected.

When a judge is making decisions for modifying a parenting agreement, Florida law says they can look at the following factors in making their determination:

  1. the nature, quality, extent of involvement, and duration of the child’s relationship with the parent proposing the relocation and the other parent not relocating
  2. the age and developmental stage of the child, their needs, and the likely impact the relocation will have on the child’s overall development
  3. the feasibility of preserving the relationship between the non-relocating parent and the child through a substitute arrangement taking into account the difficulty the distance will create
  4. If appropriate, the child’s preferences
  5. Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for the parent
  6. Both parent’s reasons for relocating or opposing the relocation
  7. The current employment and economic circumstances of each parent and if the relocation will improve the circumstances
  8. The relocation is sought in good faith
  9. The available opportunities to the objecting parent if the relocation occurs
  10. If there is a history of substance abuse or domestic violence as defined in Florida Statute 741.28
  11. Any other factor affecting the best interest of the child or as set forth in Florida Child Custody Law 61.13.
As you can see there are a lot of factors that come into play. Each case is evaluated individually, so there is no chart of one size fits all time-sharing plan that will automatically be applied to your situation.
Moving when you have children can be very difficult. There are many factors that need to be addressed, such as a local support system, school, daycare centers, extra-curricular activities like clubs and sports teams. The best way to amend a parenting agreement is to get consent from the other parent before the move and work out a plan. If you can’t agree on a plan, the court will take all of the information about your specific situation and come up with a plan for you. This isn’t always ideal as the agreement might not be what either parent wants. Often, alternative dispute resolution is used to come to an agreement before taking your case in front of a judge. This would occur at a mediation where a mediator assists negotiations between the parties to come up with the best solution for both parties. Your attorney will accompany you to mediation to protect your rights as a parent during the negotiations.
Every case is different and will require a unique approach. Some instances of relocation which might prevent you from taking your child could include imprisonment or a change to active duty military status. Other issues might be a little more flexible, like moving out of state because you are offered a better paying job. You need to be able to support yourself and your family financially so you decide that the move is the best option for you. Your attorney will be able to help you come up with the best arrangement for you and one that protects the best interest of your children. This is why an attorney who is experienced in complex matters is crucial, as they know what works and what doesn’t in these situations.
You can always make an effort to make new arrangements on your own. When you decide on a new time sharing agreement it is important to file the appropriate documentation with the court system. If the documentation has not been filed, then your agreement may not be enforceable if you have issues down the road. Your attorney can file the appropriate documents for you.
That’s okay too! If you and the other parent of your children have already dictated a certain geographical area within your original agreement, then you likely don’t need to modify your agreement if you plan to live within that area. If the other parent is refusing to cooperate with the move and wants to adjust your visitation or time-sharing responsibilities, you should consult with your attorney about your options.
When you are going through the initial child custody arrangements, it is unlikely that you planned for life’s curveballs that might pop up later. Sometimes a parent needs to relocate for a new job, a promotion, to take care of a sick family member, or an educational opportunity. If you move more than 50 miles away from your child, you will need to modify your current arrangement to accommodate your move. Your attorney will protect your rights as a parent. Nothing is more important to a parent than their child. It’s not a situation that you want to risk by going it alone. You need someone on your team to help you get what you need.
Contact your attorney immediately. If you want to maintain your parental rights for your child, you need to act right away to establish paternity. If a mother doesn’t acknowledge that you are the father of her child before pursuing adoption placement, then no one else but you knows that you are the father of your child and no one will notify you that an adoption is taking place. Your attorney can file emergency documentation to prevent an adoption in order to establish your rights to your child first if you want to take responsibility for that child.
Contact your attorney. In some cases, the courts will disestablish paternity, but it is a more complicated and limited process than establishing paternity. Your attorney is the best person to help you and in the long run will likely be less expensive than supporting a child for a number of years who you are not actually supposed to be supporting.
Absolutely! If you have a child then that child has a father and that father is responsible for caring for his child. You can file a petition for paternity and the court will order a DNA test if the father of your child disputes the petition. This will allow you to pursue financial support for your child, even if the father doesn’t want to be involved in the child’s life. Keep in mind however that you cannot just seek child support without the establishment of parental rights. If a father is given rights, he has obligations and rights to see his child unless he voluntarily waives those rights or the courts deem that person to be unfit in some way.
Not necessarily. If both the mother and father agree on paternity, then genetic testing is not necessary. If either party does doubt the genetic paternity of the child, then the court will order a DNA test prior to establishing parental rights.
Once it has been acknowledged that a parent has rights, issues such as a parenting plan, time sharing, child support, health insurance, major life decisions, and other details are then formalized. Your attorney will help you get the most out of your agreement. It is always best to be protected and have someone who is fighting to make sure that you achieve your goals in reaching an agreement that is best for you and your child.
The filing of an initial petition grants the father of the child equal parental rights with the mother of the child. This is the first step in most paternity cases. Signing a birth certificate is not necessary enough to ensure that you as a father have all of the rights that are due to you. Your attorney can help you to take appropriate action to make sure that you obtain rights to your child.
A paternity case typically occurs when a child is born and the parents of that child are not married. If a child is born to a mother who is married, the court system deems the husband of the mother to be the father. If the married woman has a child with a partner who is not her husband, there are steps that must be taken to change that presumption. If an unmarried couple needs to make an arrangement for time sharing and decision making powers for their child, they file a paternity suit. Sometimes, this might include getting the father of the child added to important documentation as well, such as the child’s birth certificate.
Andrew Merlo, Esq.

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