Legal issues that arise within domestic relationships require special care and consideration. The counsel of a qualified attorney can help you to avoid unnecessary confusion and anxiety and prevent long-lasting regrets. The lawyers at RISEN & RYAN, P.A. in Fort Walton Beach have the combined experience of more than 40 years counseling people through life's most difficult challenges - and fighting for the rights of our clients in thousands of court hearings.
Our friendly staff will be happy to provide information about costs, to "point you in the right direction" and/or to schedule an appointment to review your case with a lawyer and to answer your questions about the many issues that arise in domestic relationships including:
- Divorce Procedure
- Uncontested Divorce
- Custody and Visitation
- Marital Assets & Debts
- Entitlement to Military Benefits / Retirement
- Calculation of Child Support
- Review of Settlement Agreements
- What to Expect at Trial
- Dependency / DCF Cases
- Paternity / DOR Cases
HOW LONG MUST I RESIDE IN FLORIDA TO FILE FOR DIVORCE?
In order to qualify to be divorced in Florida a party to the marriage must continuously reside in Florida for six (6) months before the filing of the petition for dissolution of marriage. Residency is proved by: Florida Driver's License; Voter Registration; or a Third-Party Affidavit. Special rules apply in some instances involving military members.
CAN I GET DIVORCED IF I CANNOT FIND MY SPOUSE?
Yes. However you must first satisfy the Court that you have made "diligent search" in order to locate and serve the other party.
HOW MUCH CHILD SUPPORT WILL I PAY (OR RECEIVE)?
In Florida, child support is determined by a formula spelled out at Chapter 61.30 of our statutes. Lawyers and Judges refer to this as the "Florida Statutory Guidelines". Under the guidelines, support is based primarily on the incomes of the child's parents. Almost all sources of income are considered (even including military allowances & adjustments like BAH, BAS, COLA - but not the incomes of third-parties such as a new spouse). Income is reduced only for "allowable" deductions such as federal taxes. This generally means "payors" of child support do not get a break for the expenses of rent, car payments - or even the costs of supporting later-born children. Payors may however get a deduction where child support for other children has been court-ordered and actually paid.
In theory, the formula is to simplify the calculation of support in order to reduce conflict between the parties and disparity between cases. In reality (for better or worse) there remains plenty of room for negotiation and (yes) litigation. Often this concerns disagreement about the actual amounts of gross (before-tax) income or whether certain income deductions should be "allowed". Those issues must be properly addressed during your case through investigation, financial disclosure & discovery, for once support is ordered, it is often difficult to modify.
The formula also permits adjustment of support in light of the actual shared parenting arrangement. In other words, a parent who spends considerable time with his or her child, in terms of the percentage of annual "overnights", may find their support significantly reduced in consideration of the practical support being provided during visitation / timesharing. Among the surprising consequences of the Guidelines is that, sometimes, a parent who shares equal (or even majority) time with the children is ordered to pay child support to the lesser-earning parent. In most cases though the law will result in a significantly lower support obligation for the typical parent who does in fact exercise visitation more than 20% of the overnights per year.
HOW DO I GET VISITATION? / DO I HAVE TO ALLOW VISITATION?
Married parents are each presumed to have full authority over their mutual children. This means that a wife is entitled to 100% custody while a husband is also entitled to 100% custody. In a healthy, happy, marriage this apparent dichotomy works well - but only for so long as the marriage remains harmonious. Sadly, when a marriage is "broken", so that wife and husband no longer agree, their simultaneous authority over the children becomes untenable - and conditions are ripe for harmful conflict. All too often the conflict is allowed to endure while the children suffer from a custodial tug of war. In such case, legal action becomes necessary in order to differentiate the rights of the parents to exercise parental authority and custody.
The mother of a child born in Florida to unmarried parents is the "natural guardian" of the child. This means that the birth mother has exclusive custody and control of the child and the father has no right to visit with, or even contact, the child beyond what the mother chooses to allow. This remains the case even if the Florida Department of Revenue gets involved to establish paternity and child support. In that common circumstance, mom retains exclusive custody while dad has only the financial responsibilities and, none of the rights, of parenthood. However, a father who takes the initiative to establish his parental rights and responsibilities through the courts must be afforded all of the respect due to a mother and is entitled to equal consideration with respect to custody and visitation.
Whether parents are married or unmarried, the decisive issue in any case involving parental responsibilities and timesharing is: "What is in the best interests of the children"? Among the factors to be considered by the court in evaluating "best interests" is the disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other parent. It is critical that a parent facing conflict over custody, parental responsibility or visitation seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney.
WILL MY SPOUSE GET MY RETIREMENT BENEFITS IN A DIVORCE?
Maybe. If parties to a divorce reach a settlement agreement, chances are the Court will be more than glad to ratify the agreement and enter a divorce judgment based upon it - at least insofar as the parties' rights (as opposed to those of the children) are concerned. In this way parties are free to divide assets unevenly and to waive valuable rights by agreement. However, if a divorce case goes to trial, the marital estate will be equitably distributed. Presumptively, this means that all assets acquired and all debts incurred, from wedding day to divorce-filing day, will be subject to division by the court and, more often than not, such division will be equal (though it is not always the case as the law calls for "equitable" not "equal" distribution). The parties may also prove that particular assets and/or debts are not "marital" at all and therefore not subject to division at this stage of trial. However, as a rule, retirement benefits that accrued during the marriage are marital and subject to equitable distribution along with the rest of the estate. This rule applies to military as well as civilian retirement benefits. Beware misinformation about the "ten year rule"! and note that only the portion of retirement benefits that accrued during the marriage is subject to equitable distribution. Military retirement and other benefits, such as health insurance and the Survivors Benefit Plan (SBP), are unique and subject to strict, technical rules. It is critical that parties to a military divorce seek qualified legal advice.
CAN I MOVE / RELOCATE WITH MY CHILDREN?
Under Florida law a parent may not move greater than 50 miles from their current home without 1st obtaining either the specific, written consent of the other parent, or permission of the Court. The procedural rules on this are technical and failure to strictly comply may lead to contempt or even reduction of your custodial or visitation rights. If you share children, do not move without 1st seeking experienced counsel.
WHAT WILL MY MARITAL & FAMILY LAW CASE COST?
You will be charged $100 for the initial 30-minute lawyer consultation in family law matters. You will receive a credit for that amount in the event you retain RISEN & RYAN for further legal services within 10 days of the initial consultation. While it may not be possible to pre-determine the total cost of your divorce or other family-law case, we will review costs at the start and will work with you to keep costs down and to ensure there are no surprises when it comes to paying for legal services. Generally, "fees" refers to charges for professional services of the attorney & paralegal and "costs" refers to the expenses of handling your case that are passed along from third-parties - including the Clerks of Court.
UNCONTESTED: In most cases, we can offer the option of handling your "uncontested" family case for a flat fee, usually $1,000 plus the government filing costs of about $415. "Uncontested" means the parties are able to enter into a written agreement resolving all issues (children, support, property, debt) prior to filing the formal legal action, and a final judgment is based on that agreement.
CONTESTED: A "contested" case is one in which there are outstanding or unresolved issues such as timesharing, custody, support, property or debt. When the parties cannot agree on such issues at the start, or an uncontested case becomes "contested", then an hourly fee will apply. Prior to entering an appearance in a contested case, RISEN & RYAN will receive an initial retainer fee, usually $2,500. The initial retainer may be higher depending on case complexity and venue (location) of the court. All time is tracked and, if the initial retainer is exhausted, the client shall be billed for additional fees and may be required to advance an additional retainer. In some cases, it is possible to have the other party ordered to pay, or reimburse, your legal fees and costs.
COSTS: All cases are subject to additional costs necessary to the proper handling of the case. These are usually paid through our office for goods or services provided by third parties and may include: filing fees (about $300-$400 in most cases); service of process (usually $40.00); postal services; court reporting; expert fees; preparation of QDROs; appraisals; etc. All of such expenses are charged "at cost".
If you would like to discuss your particular situation with us, we will be happy to give you a much better idea of what the costs are likely to be for you. RISEN & RYAN will work with you to make your case as financially-manageable as possible and we accept MasterCard, VISA, American Express and Discover. Contact us today (850) 864-1951.
436 Green Acres Rd, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32547, US
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