About Our Firm

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Since 1997 we are experienced and knowledgeable Tampa attorneys practicing exclusively in Divorce, Family, Stepparent/Relative Adoption, Consumer/Personal Bankruptcy & Mediation. We practice primarily in Tampa, Riverview, Brandon, Valrico, Lithia, Carrollwood, North Tampa, Plant City and all of Tampa Bay. Our lawyers have experience practicing in contested and uncontested divorces, including military divorces, and family law, child support, child custody and visitation, relocation of children, alimony, domestic violence, distribution of assets and debts, retirement/pensions (military and private), enforcement and modification of final judgments, paternity actions, adoptions and name changes. We offer a free consultation and we are happy to discuss your case. Call or email to schedule a consult. Our representation of our clients reflects our dedication to them.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Divorcing Later in Life

With approximately 44 percent of Americans going through a divorce at some point, millions of people in this country must make the often difficult transition from married to single. This adjustment is rarely easy, and the longer a couple is married, the more alien it will seem to live without the presence and support of a spouse. However, the rate of divorce for those 50 and older is on the increase, compared with the number of divorces among this group in 1990. The legal issues that typically impact divorces among older couples differ from those among younger couples. Conflicts around child support and child custody is a non-starter since the vast majority have adult children that no longer need support or care. However, couples married for decades often have much larger and more complex property holdings than someone earlier in life and career development. Retirement benefits are particularly important at this stage, especially if one spouse has been the primary or sole breadwinner for the duration of the marriage. In addition, alimony is more likely to be requested, and property division generally is more apt to generate conflict.
Retirement
Retirement benefits can easily form a substantial part of a person’s net worth, and the closer one is to retiring, the more pressing this issue becomes if divorce enters the picture. Florida law designates retirement benefits earned during the marriage as marital property and subject to equitable (fair) division. Retirement accounts that contain funds earned or contributed both before and after marriage are divided on a percentage basis, with only the amount collected after marriage subject to division. Further, if any of the retirement accounts are subject to ERISA, including pensions and 401ks, there are special rules that must be followed in order for an ex-spouse to receive a distribution as part of a divorce settlement. A judge must issue a Qualified Domestic Relations Order to permit an alternate payee to collect from a retirement account. Serious tax consequences come into play if this process is mishandled, so an attorney should be consulted to avoid potential penalties.
Alimony
Spousal support or alimony is more commonly requested among older divorcing couples in light of the economic disparity many of these marriages have. Women were less likely to work or have earned substantially less than their spouse. Thus, post-divorce these women are likely to struggle financially if assistance is not provided. Florida has four types of alimony, but the one particularly applicable to these situations is permanent alimony. The law permits courts to award permanent alimony in marriages of 17 years or more if there is a need for such support, and the examination of certain factors justifies the result, including:
  • the couple’s standard of living;
  • the length of the marriage;
  • the age and mental/physical condition of each party; and
  • each party’s financial resources.
Changing Beneficiaries
In addition to the immediate impact divorce has on the property rights of each party, older couples are more apt to have estate plans that include policies with the spouse listed as the primary beneficiary. While the law will automatically disinherit an ex-spouse in certain instances, the law’s effect depends on the type of estate plan in place. Some death benefits remain payable to the designated beneficiary regardless of divorce unless the beneficiary is specifically changed. Thus, all estate plan documents should be reviewed and revised to ensure an ex-spouse does not ascend to any unwanted rights.
Get Help
Divorce at any age is a difficult process, but divorce later in life brings unique considerations that should be taken into account. The Tampa Bay law firm All Family Law Group, P.A. will fully evaluate your situation, and advise you on the best course to achieve your goals, while also protecting your rights.  Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What Is Supervised Visitation and When Is It Used?

When parents separate or divorce, a priority for many is making sure they see their children on a regular basis. Frequent parent/child contact is essential for a healthy relationship and the child’s overall development. Consequently, securing sufficient visitation, often called parenting time, is of particular importance to the parent that does not have primary custody. Florida law favors awarding parenting responsibility to both parties equally, but parenting time can quickly become a hotly-disputed issue if a party claims the other parent poses a risk to the child’s safety or health. The best interests of the child is always the pivotal concern and driving factor behind custody and visitation decisions, and evidence of domestic violence, child abuse, child neglect, child abandonment or sexual violence is likely to result in limited, if not a denial of, visitation with the child. One mechanism courts use when they want to allow some contact between a parent, but need to ensure the environment is safe, is to impose supervised visitation. A recent news story out of Pasco County illustrates another situation that could persuade a court to restrict visitation. An Amber Alert was issued when a father embroiled in a custody dispute drove up and snatched his two-year-old away from the mother. The man took this action after emergency efforts to see his son via court order were denied. A discussion of how supervised visitation works will follow below.
The Purpose of Supervised Visitation and Basic Setup
As noted above, supervised visitation is designed to give a parent viewed as posing a risk to the child and/or the other parent an opportunity to exercise some degree of visitation with his/her child. It also offers the child the important benefit having two parents in his/her life. In addition, this structure is used if there is a concern about possible parental kidnapping, and to prevent improper interaction between the parent and child. This kind of visitation involves conducting the interaction between the parent and child at a neutral site and in the presence of a visit monitor who is tasked with ensuring the contact remains safe for the child.
The Process/Programs
Typically, parents are ordered into these programs in connection with divorce/child custody proceedings, domestic violence cases and criminal cases. While in-person supervised visitation is an integral component of these programs, other types of monitoring are also possible, including:
  • monitored parental exchanges of the child;
  • telephone monitoring; and
  • therapeutic monitoring.
The monitor is present first and foremost to protect the child, but also to perform the following duties:
  • keep the nature and content of the visits confidential and remain neutral;
  • check that all instructions from the court are followed;
  • pass on information between the custodial and non-custodial parent related to the child’s welfare;
  • keep records of observations from every visit;
  • provide instruction and feedback to the parties when necessary; and
  • suspend or end a session if the safety of all participants cannot be guaranteed.
In order to fulfill this role, visit monitors receive specialized training on how to respond, recognize and control interactions that involve families dealing with domestic violence, child maltreatment and post-traumatic stress disorders.
Talk to a Family Law Attorney
There are few issues more important than seeing your child, and if you have questions or concerns about visitation or custody issues, talk to a family law attorney about your rights. The Tampa Bay law firm All Family Law Group, P.A. focuses on family law matters, and can assist you with obtaining the best possible resolution in your case.  Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Pregnancy and Divorce

When couples find out the woman is pregnant, there is typically cause for celebration and greater intimacy in the relationship. However, this news is not always a good thing. Couples who are struggling with relationship issues may find a pregnancy pushes them farther apart, and becomes the catalyst for divorce. The combined emotions of pregnancy and divorce is a lot for any woman to process, and making the right decisions for herself and the new child may not be easily discerned. Further, adding an unborn child into the divorce process creates additional legal considerations that need to be addressed. These extra concerns revolve around the particular needs of newborn children that impact issues such as parenting plans, medical costs and alimony. Balancing the needs of the child and interests of both parents can be tricky during the first stages of a child’s life. A discussion of the legal aspects, as well as the practical matters, of navigating divorce during this time of great change will follow below.
Parenting Time
To the extent possible, courts look to grant shared parental responsibility in child custody matters, and to give each parent “frequent and continuing” contact with a child to promote healthy parent/child relationships. Parenting plans lay out the responsibilities each parent has for the child, and most importantly, include a time-sharing schedule to establish how often the child will stay with each parent. Newborns present challenges to organizing a parenting plan that is fair to the father, but also workable for the mother and infant. Newborns require constant care that depends considerably on the presence of the mother, especially if she is breast feeding the infant. While carving out bonding time for the father is important, in the first months of a child’s life overnight stays may not be possible. This means, for all intents and purposes, usually the mother has sole physical custody during this period of time. Instead, both parents should be flexible, and try to work in a few hours every week for the father to visit with the child. Once the child is no longer dependent on breast milk, overnight stays can and should be integrated into the time-sharing schedule.
Health Care
Pregnancy and childbirth are well-known to bring a large amount of additional medical costs that can easily run into the thousands of dollars. Generally, spouses are not required to cover the health care costs of the other following divorce. However, in the case of pregnancy the court may order the husband to contribute toward the costs of the mother’s health care until the child is born. If the woman receives health insurance through her husband’s employer, she would be able to continue on the same plan under COBRA after divorce, which would allow her to keep the same doctors, a priority for most during pregnancy. In this situation, the husband could be ordered to pay at least part of the monthly premium, which is typically substantially more than the employer-subsidized monthly cost.
Alimony
Alimony is generally awarded on a temporary basis until a party becomes financially independent, and if a woman chose to stay home with the baby for the first few months, courts would likely be amenable to ordering some amount of alimony if the other party is able to pay. However, extended periods of absence from work, especially if the woman was employed before pregnancy, could face increased scrutiny from a court about how long alimony should last.
Consult a Divorce Attorney
Most people facing divorce have to juggle the emotional and practical changes that come with the end of a marriage. Adding a pregnancy to this burden is a lot for anyone to handle. A divorce attorney, like those at All Family Law Group, P.A., can take some the of stress away, and help make decisions that best for you and your family. All Family Law Group, P.A. represents clients in the Tampa Bay area, and can help you move forward.  Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+

Monday, June 12, 2017

What to Expect at Your First Meeting with a Divorce Lawyer

Making the decision to get divorced is hard, and the next step may not be so obvious in the wake of all the emotions divorce typically provokes. But, at some point, most people end up talking with a divorce lawyer. The time leading up to the first meeting is often full of fear and anxiety for the potential client as they ponder the personal information they must reveal, and confront the many stereotypes attributed to lawyers. In addition, meeting with a lawyer to discuss divorce may be the first time the person has ever consulted an attorney, which can feel overwhelming and intimidating. Divorce is one of the most stressful events a person can experience, but working with an experienced divorce attorney can help to dispel some of the constant worry. Thus, instead of the trepidation that comes from entering this setting blind, a discussion on what to expect and the types of information to prepare before such a meeting will be offered in hopes of soothing some of these worries and facilitating a more productive discussion.
Preparation
Preparation is important for both reducing anxiety and maximizing the time the person has with the attorney. To start this process, one should envision what he/she wants life to look like post-divorce, and figure out what is needed to make that happen (i.e., property division, support, etc.). In addition, make a list of questions about any practical or legal aspects of divorce that are unclear. Finances are big part of any divorce, and will influence how the attorney approaches this case. Thus, Florida requires both parties to a divorce to file a financial affidavit outlining expenses and income, which is used to calculate child support and to decide the division of property. While it is not necessary to have all the details and documents collected at this stage, having an informed understanding of one’s assets and obligations is very helpful and relevant information the attorney needs. Be prepared to discuss past and current marital problems and issues that are likely to be disputed in the divorce.
What Will Happen at the Meeting?
The most important thing to remember about the initial consultation is that no decision must be made right away. Look at this meeting as a fact-finding opportunity, and keep in mind the purpose is for the attorney to get to know the potential client. Then, both can mutually decide if there is a good fit and take the necessary steps to formalize the attorney/client relationship. The attorney will ask questions about the marriage, children and any unique dynamics affecting the family. In addition, the client will learn about the divorce process, including options on the types of divorce that apply to his/her situation. Finally, while every divorce is unique, there are some commonalities, and the attorney has likely heard a similar story before. Thus, there is no need to feel embarrassed about the specifics of the situation – the attorney is there to help.
Get Legal Advice
The consequences of divorce are far-reaching and permanent, which is why consulting with an experienced divorce attorney is important to protecting your long-term interests. The Tampa Bay law firm All Family Law Group, P.A. strives to resolve divorce cases as amicably as possible, but is prepared to fight for your rights in court if necessary.  Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What Can You Do if the Other Parent Ignores the Parenting Plan?

The cornerstones of child custody arrangements in Florida are parenting plans. These documents outline when each parent has physical custody of the child, and the legal authority each holds over important decisions in the child’s life (education, medical care, activities, etc.). In practical terms, both parents must compromise and cooperate with one another in order for parenting plans to work, but unfortunately, not all parents are willing to follow the terms set out in this document. All parenting plans must be approved by a court so they can be legally enforced in case one party decides to violate the terms. Violations can include not returning the child at the appointed time, preventing communication between a parent and child, or taking the child out of the area without the other parent’s knowledge or permission. Florida law, understanding the seriousness of denying a parent lawful access to a child, has civil procedures and criminal penalties to deter this type of conduct.
Risk of Violation
If a parent is lucky enough to realize the other parent is planning to violate the parenting plan, that parent can ask the court to issue orders designed to stop the other parent from following through with his/her intent. However, the type of violation must relate to a parent planning to take the child out of the state or country, or conceal the child’s location. The petition must include considerable evidence demonstrating the parent’s intent (plane tickets, real estate inquiries, contacting schools, closing bank accounts, quitting a job, for example), and cannot be based on a suspicion or unsupported fear. Assuming there is sufficient evidence of a plan to leave with or conceal the child, the court can issue orders limiting the parent’s ability to take action, including:
  • requiring the parent to get notarized permission from the other parent or a court order before taking the child out of the State or country;
  • requiring the parent to post security or bond as a financial deterrence to taking the child;
  • requiring the parent to surrender the child’s passport, or, if the child does not have one, requesting the Passport Service Office not issue a passport until further orders from the court;
  • imposing restrictions on visitation, including requiring supervised visitation; or
  • prohibiting the parent from picking up the child from school or daycare.
Modification of the Parenting Plan
If violations have occurred, but do not include abducting the child, a parent’s best course of action is to petition the court for a modification of the parenting plan. Parenting plans can be changed if there are substantial, material and unanticipated changes in circumstance, and it is in the best interests of the child. Ongoing efforts to prevent or limit a parent’s access to his/her child in contravention of provisions of the parenting plan would almost certainly persuade a court to modify the parenting plan. The court could give the non-offending parent sole custody or impose limited or supervised visitation for the offending parent to prevent further interference with the parenting plan.
Interference with Child Custody
Finally, if a parent has taken steps to keep a child away from another parent with custody rights, the state classifies this behavior as the crime of interference with custody. The concealment or removal of the child must be with the “malicious intent to deprive another person of his or her right to custody.” This offense is a third degree felony, which could land someone in state prison for up to five years. However, the law does grant defenses to this crime for actions taken to protect the child’s welfare or escape domestic violence.
Get Legal Advice
If you are dealing with an ex- spouse or partner who continually violates the terms of your parenting plan, do not try to fight this battle alone. Being proactive when violations begin reduce the chances of the other parent being able to take your child beyond your reach. The Tampa Bay All Family Law Group, P.A. understands what is at stake and will fight to protect the interests of you and your child.  Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Do Grandparents Have Any Rights after Their Child Divorces?

Couples with children who decide to divorce face many challenges as they transition to being single parents. Trying to explain that everyone does not live together anymore is a hard concept for young children to grasp. In addition to losing the family unit, children can find themselves disconnected from family and friends as parents adjust school and living arrangements. One family member that is typically very important to a child’s wellbeing and development is a grandparent. Grandparents hold a special place in a child’s life that is difficult, if not impossible, to replace. However, depending on the circumstances of a divorce, a parent may decide it best to limit or deny a grandparent access to a child. This decision can be devastating for the child and grandparent alike, and Florida law recognizes that visitation with a grandparent should be extended some degree of protection. A number of states have laws on grandparent visitation that vary on how extensive the grandparent’s right to see a child is. A woman from Illinois was recently charged with child neglect for violating court-ordered visitation with her daughter’s paternal grandparents. Florida is on the more conservative side when it comes to grandparent visitation rights, and will only grant it under specific circumstances. This stance is reflective of the strong deference given to parents to decide who should have access to their child.
Petitioning for Visitation
A grandparent may only petition for visitation if one of the following is true:
  • both parents are missing, deceased or in a permanent vegetative state; or
  • one parent is missing, deceased or in a vegetative state, and the other parent has been convicted of a felony or violent crime that shows the parent poses a substantial threat to the child’s health or welfare.
Thus, the parents must be unavailable to care for their child, and, in a practical sense, the grandparent offers the closest opportunity possible to learn about the absent parent. As a preliminary step to considering the petition, the court must first determine if the parents are unfit or pose a substantial threat. Unless one of these options is answered in the affirmative, the petition will not proceed for full consideration. In addition to assessment of the parents, the court also looks at what is in the best interests of the child, and whether visitation with the grandparent would damage the parent/child relationship.
Factors Used to Evaluate the Petition
The best interests of the child is always a paramount consideration in any family court proceeding. In the context of grandparent visitation, the court looks at:
  • the emotional ties between the grandparent and child, especially if established when access was previously allowed;
  • the length and quality of the grandparent/child relationship, including if the grandparent provided regular care and support;
  • the reasons given by the parent for cutting off visitation;
  • if the child suffered harm due to the disruption in the grandparent relationship, and if the grandparent’s stability and support could prevent further harm;
  • the mental, physical and emotional health the of the grandparent and child; and
  • the child’s preference, if mature enough to make a reasoned decision.
When it comes to evaluating the impact of grandparent visitation on the parent/child relationship, the court considers several factors, including:
  • previous disputes between the parents and grandparents over childcare;
  • if the visitation would compromise or interfere with the parent’s authority;
  • whether visitation would expose the child to morals, beliefs or practices that conflict with parent’s wishes; and
  • the psychological effect of the visitation disputes on the child.
Consult a Family Law Attorney
If you are struggling with a child visitation dispute, talk to a family law attorney about your rights and obligations. Parents have a lot of leeway to decide who can see their child, outside of the other parent. The All Family Law Group, P.A. helps individuals in the Tampa Bay area resolve a variety of family law issues, including child custody and visitation. Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+


   

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Dealing with a Spouse Who Is Intentionally Hiding or Squandering Marital Assets Pending Divorce

Married couples spend years building up assets in the hope of gaining financial stability for their family, and this effort often requires many sacrifices to produce the desired results. Consequently, if a couple later divorces, dividing this property frequently becomes a contentious and highly litigated issue. Relinquishing control over something that required considerable effort is understandably difficult. However, unless a prenuptial agreement exists, the division of marital property is mandated by Florida law. Typically, marital property is equally divided between spouses under the premise that each provided equivalent contributions to the acquisition of the assets. But, if there are concerns about a spouse dissipating assets during the marriage and/or while the divorce is pending, the court can take steps to rein in this behavior if sufficient evidence is brought to its attention. Basically, the law does not want one spouse to unfairly and unilaterally gain a greater share of the marital property at the other spouse’s expense, and potentially leave the innocent party with no financial resources following the divorce decree. A woman from Florida is facing this situation as she seeks to stem the further loss of marital property to her husband’s mistress. The woman filed for divorce earlier this year after learning of the affair, and believes the amount that actually benefited the other woman is far in excess of the $11 million claimed by her husband. A discussion of what a spouse can do to stop dissipation, or waste, of marital property, as well as how to recover the squandered funds in a divorce, will follow below.
Actions Considered Dissipation of Assets
A spouse is considered to have dissipated marital assets if he/she attempts to hide or waste the assets, and thereby deprives the other spouse of the benefits the property provides. Dissipation can include transferring money to family members, wiring money to an overseas bank account, or intentionally running up huge credit card debts to punish the other spouse for getting divorced. Further, changing the beneficiary of a life insurance from a spouse to a mistress, for example, would also be viewed as waste since the intent is to deny the spouse the benefit and use of the proceeds. If this type of behavior is suspected, action must be taken as soon as possible to prevent further, and potentially unrecoverable, losses of marital property.
Injunctions
Florida law allows spouses to petition the court for an injunction to prevent the other spouse from disposing of or concealing the property. This means the spouse named in the injunction is prohibited from removing the property from the state or reducing its value in any way without the other spouse’s permission. If a spouse violates the injunction, the other spouse may file a petition with the court to hold him/her in contempt, and may also include a demand for the spouse to deposit a sum of money with the court to cover the value of the lost assets, if they are unrecoverable, as an incentive to prevent further violations. The payment is also usually necessary to avoid a jail sentence for contempt.
Property Division in Light of Lost Assets
If a spouse did dissipate marital property, this behavior can have a significant effect on the division of property in a divorce. The court will value assets lost to dissipation, and award a greater amount of the remaining marital property to the innocent spouse. If the remaining marital property is insufficient to cover the value of the wasted assets, the court will look to the guilty spouse’s separate property to find restitution for the other party.
Get Help
If you are concerned a spouse is disposing of assets without your knowledge or consent, talk to a family law attorney as soon as possible. The quicker legal action is taken, the greater the possibility of tracking and recovering the property. The All Family Law Group, P.A. represents clients throughout the Tampa Bay area in family law matters, including property division, and can help you get the settlement you deserve.  Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+

Monday, March 6, 2017

Mental Incapacity: The Lesser Known Basis for Divorce

Marriage requires compromise and acceptance of difficult situations if a couple wants it to last, and such sacrifice tends to increase as spouses age. People generally recognize that a spouse will change both physically and psychologically over time, and are willing to stay with the person despite these shifts. However, there may come a point where the change is so dramatic and profound that staying married is no longer feasible and divorce becomes a viable option. Everyone is familiar with irreconcilable differences as the no-fault basis for divorce, but Florida also offers an additional ground to justify divorce – mental incapacity. Divorcing someone in these circumstances may seem harsh, but other factors may make ending the marriage in this manner a reasonable choice. Children, especially if they are young, are likely to experience a considerable negative impact if continually exposed to a parent that is mentally incapacitated. Kim Kardashian is currently facing the dilemma of deciding whether to divorce from her husband, Kanye West, in the wake of his mental health breakdown in recent weeks. Divorcing someone on the grounds of mental incapacity is not the easy procedure offered by claiming irreconcilable differences, but is important to know about for those in this situation.
Divorce Due to Mental Incapacity
The main reason someone might choose to use irreconcilable differences as a basis for divorce, even if their spouse is mentally incapacitated, is the extra time required for choosing the latter. Florida law mandates that to use mental incapacity as the reason for divorce, one spouse must first be declared incompetent for at least three years. Further, the incapacitated spouse is entitled to have a guardian to represent their interests, which adds another layer of complexity to the case. Most importantly, though, spouses that divorce due to mental incapacity are obligated to pay alimony because the other spouse is almost guaranteed to lack the resources for self-support.
Getting Someone Declared Mentally Incapacitated
Before getting into how one is declared incapacitated, it is worth stopping for moment to consider why a spouse or family member would take this step in the first place. It seems to appear from the outside that this procedure would have little to no impact on the daily needs of the incapacitated person, which is probably true. But, it does give the spouse or family member the authority to make medical and financials decisions on behalf of the incapacitated individual, and may open access to programs that can assist with caring for the incapacitated person.
This process starts with filing a petition with the court asking it to declare someone incapacitated. These petitions are addressed on an expedited basis, so the process moves somewhat quickly compared with other cases. Within five days of filing the petition, the court must appoint a committee of three medical professionals to evaluate the condition of the person named in the petition, and each must submit a report to the judge no later than four months after their appointment. Each professional must personally examine the individual and assess whether he/she has the ability to exercise certain legal rights, such as the right to marry, manage property, vote, make medical decisions and decide living situation issues. The court uses this information, along with its own impressions gathered by questioning the individual, to decide if some or all legal rights should be removed due to incapacity. This status continues indefinitely until lifted by a court in a future proceeding.
Talk to a Divorce Attorney
If you are considering divorce, regardless of the reason, consult a divorce attorney before filing a divorce petition. Divorce has important legal consequences, many of which are permanent, and should be approached under the guidance of a divorce attorney who can make sure your interests are fully considered and protected. The Tampa Bay law firm of the All Family Law Group works with clients to achieve their specific goals as they enter a new stage in life.  Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Can You Keep the Details of a Divorce Private?

Divorce can leave the participants feeling emotionally and financially vulnerable. These reactions make sense in light of the dramatic changes divorce triggers within a relatively short-period of time – change in residence, change in economic circumstance and change in relationship status. Another difficult reality of divorce is the necessity of releasing private and potentially embarrassing information to the public. All cases filed in any court are matters of public record, which means anyone has the right to access them upon request. This was not much of an issue before the advent of the Internet, and to view case records typically required someone to visit the courthouse in person. However, now that records can be accessed from the comfort of home at any time of the day, concerns about who may view, and subsequently use, this information is real and justified. Parties involved in court proceedings have the right to ask a judge to seal all case records and related documents so the information is withheld from public view. However, a compelling reason must exist to justify such a request. Actor Brad Pitt recently tried to seal the records in his divorce, citing concerns about his children’s privacy rights, but the court disagreed and denied the request. While receiving approval to seal records in a divorce case is not easy, it does happen. Importantly, though, there are ways to keep information private without resorting to a request to seal records.
Sealing Records
As noted above, documents filed in connection with divorce cases are considered public records subject to Florida law on the public’s right to access this information. If a party wants to keep information out of the public eye, he/she must file a request with the court asking it to designate certain information as confidential and thus exempt from disclosure. Courts will only grant such a request if a party can demonstrate certain grounds exist to justify the decision. These include:
  • confidentiality is necessary to preserve justice in a case;
  • confidentiality is needed to avoid injury to innocent third parties, such as children; or
  • confidentiality is necessary to prevent injury to a party by the disclosure of information normally protected under common law or a right to privacy.
Courts are generally reluctant to grant these requests, and a party must have a fairly compelling reason to be successful. Consequently, a better option is to limit or completely avoid submitting private information to a court.
Other Ways of Keeping Information Private
The most effective way to circumvent the need to release private information into the public record is to negotiate and enter into a private settlement agreement as part of a mediation or through the collaborative divorce process. These proceedings are private, and the extent to which personal information must be disclosed to finalize a divorce is limited. Further, the provisions of a marital settlement can refer to outside agreements without disclosing the terms contained within them, which is especially useful to protect financial information. Thus, while it takes a little planning, it is possible to keep most personal information out of the public domain, and an experienced divorce attorney will know the most effective way to accomplish this goal.
Consult a Divorce Attorney
Divorce is difficult, and being forced to disclose personal information to strangers only adds to the stress. If you are concerned about revealing personal information to the public, work with a knowledgeable divorce attorney about limiting your exposure. Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+

Monday, February 27, 2017

Do Step-parents Have the Authority to Make Legal Decisions for a Stepchild?

Divorce is especially hard on children because they rarely understand the reasons behind the decision, and only perceive the practical consequence that their parents do not live together anymore. Disputes over child custody and parental responsibility can particularly complicate things. While the child may struggle to adapt to this disruption in daily life, welcoming a new adult into the home if a parent decides to remarry can be equally challenging. Despite the common and unflattering depiction of step-parents in movies and books, many step-parent/step-child relationships and are healthy and productive and do not include the abusive, overbearing bearing behavior step-parents are sometimes charged with using. From a legal standpoint, a step-parent has no authority to provide consent to medical treatment, enroll a child in school, or make any other routine decision without approval from the legally-recognized parents. This lack of authority can cause problems if the child’s parent becomes ill or is otherwise unable to fulfill his/her parental duties. Informal and formal legal arrangements exist that can bridge the gap between a desire by the step-parent to become more involved in a child’s life and the limitations of the law.
Piecemeal Written Authorizations
The easiest and least expensive method of granting authorization to a step-parent for a step-child is a written letter from a parent or legal guardian that specifically gives the step-parent the power to make decisions. While the simplicity of this arrangement can make it appealing, it does require preplanning, and does not really take into account emergency situations. It is impractical to carry a letter of authorization around constantly, and while no medical facility would deny a child treatment for a serious condition because a parent is not present, non-emergency medical care cannot occur without consent from an adult with parental rights.
Step-Parent Adoption
Step-parent adoption is a permanent solution to the lack of authority, but does involve the investment of money and time. Step-parent adoption is only available if the person is legally married to one of the child’s parents. If a married couple wants to initiate a step-parent adoption, they must file a petition in court. Florida does not permit a child to have three legal parents, so the only way to complete a step-parent adoption for a child with two living parents is through the termination of one parent’s rights via consent or court order. Sometimes the consent of a parent is unnecessary. For example, if the parent deserted the child, previously lost his/her parental rights, or is ruled incompetent, consent is not required. Because of the gravity of the rights being granted and the concurrent seriousness of the loss of rights by a parent, the law wants to be sure all interested parties know about an adoption petition. Consequently, the legislature created a database for potential fathers of unwed mothers, called the Putative Father Registry. When a man registers his name on the database, he becomes entitled to notice about any impending adoption. Thus, checking this list is necessary if the biological father is out of the picture, but may have known about the woman’s pregnancy.
Despite the legal requirements, step-parent adoptions are easier and faster than conventional adoptions, and can be completed in one day if both parents consent. This legal option ensures the step-parent removes all obstacles to caring for a child, and may be the right choice for families looking to fully integrate.
Contact a Family Law Attorney
If you are a step-parent wishing to have more of a say in a child’s life, talk to a family law attorney about your legal options. A family law attorney can look at the dynamics of your family and guide you toward a choice that makes the most sense. Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Figuring Out Property Division in Divorce

Part of a couple’s effort to build a life together includes acquiring property that speaks to the couple’s success and affection for one another. The longer a couple is married obviously affects the variety and amount of property they own together, and will represent the couple’s hard work and sacrifice. Having to split these assets during divorce is often a hard reality for parties to accept, but absent a prenuptial agreement, some amount of property division will occur. When people typically think about dividing property in divorce, houses, cars, and retirement benefits are the first things that come to mind, but any asset of value can fall within the definition of marital property, including more personal items like books and artwork. While the parties are always free to craft their own property settlement, a court will review the terms for fairness, and, in the absence of an agreement, divide all marital property according to the rules of Florida law.
Equitable Division
Property division in divorce starts from the premise that all marital property should be divided equally between the spouses, unless there is evidence that justifies an unequal division. Examples of issues that could impact the balance of property division are adultery and dissipation of assets by one spouse. Courts evaluate whether equal distribution is appropriate on a case-by-case basis, and use a number of factors to complete this analysis. These factors include:
  • the contributions of each spouse to the marriage, including childcare and household services;
  • the length of the marriage;
  • the economic resources of each party;
  • interrupting educational or career pursuits of one spouse for the benefit of the other spouse;
  • the contribution of each spouse to increases in value of marital property, and the accumulation of liabilities; and
  • the wishes of either spouse to keep the family home for the benefit of a minor child.
Note that both assets and liabilities are divided in divorce, but if one spouse is mainly responsible for the accumulation of debt, the court could leave him/her with the bulk of these obligations.
Marital Property
Now that there is a basic understanding of how property is divided, the next important piece in this issue is figuring out which property is subject to distribution. As noted above, all marital property is divided in divorce. Marital property includes:
  • all assets and liabilities acquired by either spouse during the marriage;
  • non-marital property that increased in value during the marriage due to the efforts of either spouse or the use of marital funds;
  • gifts between spouses during the marriage;
  • all vested and unvested benefits and interests in retirement funds, life insurance, and pensions;
  • real property jointly owned by the spouses; and
  • personal property jointly owned by the spouses.
Determining whether an asset qualifies as marital property is fairly clear in most divorce cases, but one area that may be less clear is interspousal gifts.  All gifts received from a spouse are automatically labeled as marital property, but the law permits a party to dispute this assumption by presenting “clear and convincing” evidence to the contrary. This standard of proof requires a party to present enough evidence that shows his/her contention is more likely true than not.
Retirement Plans
Finally, given the importance of retirement plans in a person’s overall long-term financial stability, it is natural to wonder what happens to these assets following divorce. Any interests or benefits in these funds that accrue during a marriage are considered marital assets and subject to distribution. In addition, military benefits amassed by active military personnel are also open to division if the marriage lasted 10 years or more.
Talk to a Florida Divorce Attorney
If you are in the midst of getting divorced and have questions about which property you are entitled to receive, talk to a divorce attorney to learn your rights. There are many legal nuances not covered here that affect how property is divided. The Tampa Bay law firm All Family Law Group, P.A. has extensive experience in all facets of divorce cases, and can help you receive a fair property settlement.  Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+

Monday, February 20, 2017

Appealing a Divorce

The process of divorce can be a long and winding road, especially if children are involved. Consequently, when the divorce decree is finally issued, parties typically feel a sense of relief gained by the knowledge that they can now move past this period in their life. And, for most divorcing couples, the final divorce order marks the end of the divorce case and the marriage. However, circumstances do sometimes arise that can compel someone to appeal a divorce order, but courts are reluctant to revisit these cases because the integrity of marriage requires that divorce judgments be conclusive and not easily overturned. Despite this policy, courts are willing to reconsider and potentially modify divorce orders for very particular and limited reasons. Given how restrictive divorce appeals are, working to negotiate one’s own agreement is the best method of ensuring the settlement terms are fair. Failing agreement, parties need to present the best evidence to the judge, which an experienced divorce attorney will know how to do. Nevertheless, understanding when a divorce appeal is permitted is important information to have in case an appealable issue does occur.
Legal Options to Revisit Divorce Order
Florida law gives parties in divorce cases several opportunities to request that the court reassess an earlier decision, and the type one files tends to depend upon how much time has passed since the final divorce decree was issued. The first option, and the one with the shortest deadline, is to file a motion for rehearing. This request must be made within 15 days following the issuance of a court order, and is usually the first step in filing a formal appeal. This request is used when a party has a legal basis for appeal, not just an objection based on facts. The judge is not required to grant a rehearing, and has broad discretion to deny it, which is generally what happens.
The next alternative, which is available if the divorce order was issued within the previous 30 days, is to file a formal appeal. This is a very complicated and technical process that takes a considerable amount of time to complete. No new evidence may be presented, and the basis for appeal must rest on a claim that the court misapplied the law. Note that if a party wins on appeal, the case will likely have to go back to the trial court for final resolution.
Finally, if more than one month has passed since the court issued the divorce order, the only option left is to file a motion for relief from judgment. A party has up to one year to file this type of motion. However, these requests are rarely successful, and are only granted in unusual circumstances.
Grounds for Appeal
The legal basis for appealing a divorce order is commonly based on one or more of the following claims:
  • the judge made a mistake in the application of the law;
  • new evidence was discovered that was unavailable or not ascertainable earlier in the case; or
  • fraud, misrepresentation, or misconduct by the other party. This claim typically relates to concealment of assets by a spouse. Note that while parties usually have just one year to file a motion to set aside a judgment, a special rule exists for divorce cases that completely removes the time restriction if the request is based on fraudulent financial records.
Get Help from Our Attorneys
If you believe a mistaken or a fundamentally unjust decision was made in your divorce case, talk to family law attorney about appealing the judge’s order. The All Family Law Group, P.A. helps clients in the Tampa Bay area deal with variety of family law issues, including divorce appeals.  Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+

Friday, February 17, 2017

Traditional vs. Collaborative Divorce: Which Option Is Better for You?

Deciding to divorce is one of the most difficult and painful decisions most people will ever make. Coming to this conclusion is typically the result of a lot of discussion, personal reflection and failed efforts to improve the relationship. Once the decision is made, though, the logistics and practical considerations of getting divorced must be addressed. Who will file the divorce petition? Will both sides hire lawyers? Should child custody and property division be decided first? These are important questions that all divorcing couples face, but another crucial matter those seeking divorce should consider is the type of divorce procedure to use. Most people assume that the traditional, combative divorce case in front of a judge is the only way to dissolve a marriage. However, as divorces have become more common over the past 30 years, alternative ways to pursue divorce have emerged, including a recent option called collaborative divorce. This method of divorce is geared toward allowing the parties to emerge from the process with a working relationship by the use of a non-combative dispute resolution approach. While collaborative divorce is an option, this choice is not right for everyone.
Marriage is a Business Contract
While viewing marriage as a business deal is not the most romantic approach, it does reflect the practical realities of the rights and obligations a couple both grant and assume to each other the day they marry. In the event of divorce, sorting out how to dissolve this arrangement is a proposition more suited for the abilities of a court, rather than the professional advisors that collaborate with divorcing parties in the collaborative divorce process. While it may seem more attractive to fashion one’s own conclusion to the relationship, the court has remedies it can access that are unavailable to private parties. These remedies are designed to ensure the unraveling of the relationship is just, and protect the rights of parties in weaker positions.
Traditional Divorce Can Be Civil
Collaborative divorce is known as the peaceful alternative to ending a marriage, but couples do not have to engage in protracted disputes simply because a traditional divorce case is filed. Couples can work out their own private settlement agreement, with the assistance of divorce attorneys, before stepping inside a courtroom. In fact, Florida offers a simplified divorce petition, which gives parties with no disputed issues a condensed and faster approach to navigating the divorce process.
Limitations on Probing the Other Side’s Claims
A key aspect of conventional divorce cases is the disclosure of financial information to the other side. This information is needed to assess the types of property owned jointly and separately for purposes of property division, and to see the financial resources of each party for calculations of child support and alimony awards. Filing the usual divorce petition gives each party the ability to request specific information, and to ask a court to compel the release of additional information if fraud or misrepresentation is suspected. Collaborative divorce does not give parties the tools to verify or contest the accuracy of the financial information offered. This limitation may make it easier to hide or withhold information on assets, so if someone considering divorce is unsure about what the other spouse owns, this process may not be the best choice.
Work with a Florida Divorce Attorney
If you are contemplating divorce, talk to a divorce attorney before filing a petition to make sure you choose the type of divorce best for you and your family. The Tampa Bay law firm All Family Law Group, P.A. is experienced in many different types of divorce, and can assist you with your case.  Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Child Custody Decision Guidelines in Florida

Parents contemplating divorce often have a much more difficult time deciding whether to end the marriage. Divorce greatly affects children, and is known to leave a negative stamp on a child’s development. Certainly, couples in unhealthy relationships should part because staying together is also damaging to a child, but divorces involving children are naturally more complicated. Figuring out how to divide childcare and decision-making responsibilities frequently leads to conflict as each parent fights to ensure they maintain a strong presence in their child’s life. Parents ideally negotiate their own child custody arrangement, often with the assistance of a divorce attorney, but in high-conflict divorces, the court is typically tasked with making this decision. Giving this much power to the judge may seem frightening. A group of women in Palm Beach County founded an organization in 2003, Families Against Court Travesties (FACTS), dedicated to scrutinizing the family court system after encountering judges who seemed to favor one party in high-conflict child custody cases. Understanding the guidelines judges must follow in child custody decisions will help divorcing parents move through the process with less stress and anxiety.
Parenting Plans
Florida law requires all divorce cases involving minor children to include a parenting plan, which governs how the parents will split responsibilities for the children going forward. Many divorcing couples formulate their own parenting plans since they can cater to the unique needs of their families, but the court must still approve the terms. All parenting plans must do all of the following:
  • describe with sufficient detail how the parents plan to share the daily tasks of raising a child;
  • specify how much time the child will spend with each parent;
  • indicate who will be responsible for decisions related to health care, education, and other activities; and
  • describe how the parents plan to communicate with the child.
If the judge must create the parenting plan, the court starts from the premise that both parents will share responsibility, and will only deviate from this standard if following it would be detrimental to the child. Evidence of domestic violence or convictions for other violent offenses are examples of issues that would be detrimental to the child, and cause a judge to consider awarding all parenting responsibilities to one party. The court will give considerable weight to the wishes of the parties, but the one principle that drives all child custody decisions is the best interests of the child.
Best Interests of the Child
In order to ascertain what is in the best interests of the child, the court takes into account a number of factors. These factors help the court to evaluate the needs and circumstances of a particular child and family. Some of these factors are:
  • the ability of each parent to support a close relationship between the child and the other parent;
  • how often a parent would delegate parental responsibilities to a third party;
  • the ability of each parent to put the needs of the child first;
  • the geographic viability of the parenting plan, especially for school-age children;
  • the mental and physical health of the parents;
  • the ability of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child;
  • the ability of the parents to communicate with each other on child-related issues and adopt a united front on important issues; and
  • the ability of each parent to meet the child’s needs.
Consult a Florida Family Law Attorney
If you are getting divorced or have questions about child custody issues, it is best to speak with an experienced family law attorney to ensure you receive accurate information on such an important matter. The Tampa Bay law firm, All Family Group, P.A., will conduct a thorough analysis to determine what the best arrangement is for you and your family.  Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Relocating with a Child May Require More than Hiring Movers

The world is now a smaller place due to advances in technology that allow us to travel faster and stay in constant communication. One significant byproduct of this change is people are much more mobile today compared with previous generations. Moving for a job or a change in lifestyle is now considered normal, and divorced parents, while needing to consider additional concerns, are part of this group. Certainly, all parents must weigh the impact of uprooting a child to a new place before deciding if the transition is in the family’s best interest, but when child custody issues are put into the mix, the decision becomes complicated. The law recognizes the fact that people with shared parenting responsibilities relocate all the time, while also taking into account the competing interest of the parent left behind who will lose regular contact with the child. Consequently, rules are in place to regulate these circumstances, which are aimed at determining if the move is in the child’s best interest, including an assessment of whether the motivation behind the relocation is legitimate and not vindictive. Parents who have conflicted relationships with ex-spouses may want to avoid a discussion on this issue, but relocating parents cannot keep the other parent in the dark. An overview of the legal requirements for a parent planning to relocate will follow below.
Agreement vs. Petition
As a preliminary point, these rules only apply to changes in the parent’s residence that are greater than 50 miles and expected to last more than 60 days. Any relocation less than this distance does not need parent or court approval. At a minimum, the parent seeking to relocate with the child must obtain the consent of the other parent, and memorialize the agreement in writing. The written agreement must include an affirmative acknowledgement of the other parent’s approval and a plan for how the parenting time arrangement will be modified to reflect the child’s new location. If consent is not obtained, the relocating parent must receive permission from a court to move forward. This requires the parent to file a petition in court, and serve a copy to the other parent so he/she has notice of the legal action. The petition must include a description of the reason for the move and a revised timesharing and travel schedule for the child, or it will be dismissed.
Contested Relocation
Once a parent receives notice about a potential relocation, that parent has 20 days to contest the request. If the parent fails to do so, the relocation will be granted without a hearing or notice, unless it is against the best interests of the child. Filing a response to contest the relocation will put a temporary hold on the move until the matter is settled. The parent seeking to relocate has the obligation to show why the move is in the child’s best interest, but if this burden is met, the responsibility to demonstrate why the move is against the child’s best interest shifts to the parent contesting the move. To evaluate what is in the child’s best interest, courts weigh a number of factors, including how the move will affect the nature and quality of the relationship with the non-relocating parent and how the move may impact the child’s development. Some other factors are:
  • the child’s preference, assuming the child is mature enough to make a reasoned decision;
  • if the relocation will improve the quality of life for the relocating parent and child;
  • if the relocation is requested in good faith; and
  • the reason each parent is asking for or objecting to the relocation.
Talk to a Florida Family Law Attorney
If your child is involved in a possible relocation, seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney well before the planned moving date. If a parent relocates with a child without fulfilling the necessary legal requirements, serious legal consequences could follow, including potential loss of custody. The attorneys at the Tampa Bay law firm All Family Group, P.A. understand what is at stake in child-related matters, and will work to get the result is best for your family.  Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+

Saturday, January 28, 2017

What to Do When You Suspect the Other Parent Plans to Kidnap Your Child

Ask any child of divorced parents what would make them happy, and most will respond with having their parents together again. While it is fairly well known that children tend to do better in intact homes, this situation is not always tenable or in the child’s best interest if the parents are unable to maintain a healthy and functioning relationship. When a couple does decide to separate or divorce, and issues of child custody and parental responsibilities are addressed, most parents strive to make decisions that are best for their child. Unfortunately, though, not all parents are willing to discuss or compromise their positions on their children, and this unyielding attitude can easily lead to disputes. An extreme manifestation of this inflexibility is a parent who decides to ignore or directly violate a parenting plan in order to keep a child away from the other parent or legal guardian. A woman in Citrus County was recently arrested for interference with child custody when she forcefully took her children from the court-appointed guardian after being told she had no legal right to see them. Worrying about a parent kidnapping his/her child is a terrible scenario for the other parent, but the law does offer some protections to a parent fearing this possibility.
Parents at Risk of Violating Parenting Plan
The purpose of a parenting plan is to establish the responsibilities of each parent, and includes a time-sharing schedule that outlines how much time a child will spend with each parent. If a parent has legitimate evidence that another parent is likely to violate the parenting plan by removing a child from the state or concealing the child’s location, the parent can file a petition with the court asking it to block any possible attempts. The court has authority to prohibit the parent from taking certain actions that would facilitate travel with or concealment of the child. Some of the options a court has to inhibit a parent’s ability to violate the parenting plan include:
  • requiring court permission or the consent of both parents to remove the child from the state or country;
  • requiring the parent to surrender the child’s passport;
  • imposing travel restrictions that insist on a parent providing a travel itinerary and contact information for the child before travel can commence;
  • prohibiting a parent from removing the child from school or approaching the child outside of the designated site for visitation; and
  • imposing limitations on visitation or requiring all visitation with the child be supervised until the risk of a parenting plan violation has subsided.
Bringing a Child Home
Once a child is taken to another state or country and contact with a parent is cut off, it is important to know what laws are in place to resolve this situation. Most states, Florida included, enacted a law that governs child custody disputes that cross state lines. The law, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, allows courts in different states to speak to one another in order to determine which court should decide the child custody case, and ultimately, where the child should live. This decision is based on the residency of the child, which is typically established by where child lived for the previous six months. Consequently, taking legal action as soon as possible is important to preventing a change of residency for the child. Motions related to child custody disputes are heard quickly to facilitate an efficient resolution of the matter for the sake of the child, especially when parental kidnapping is alleged.
The most important thing, when a threat such as this exists, is to get a court order outlining the rights of each parent. Without this legal backing, law enforcement will not have the authority to intervene if there is a kidnapping, leaving one parent with little recourse to get the child back.
Hire a Family Law Attorney
If you are fighting with an ex-spouse about parenting time or other child-related matters, and fear he/she will take action to keep the child away from you, you need to speak with an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible. Keeping the child in the state is imperative to protecting your rights, and the attorneys at the All Family Law Group, P.A. understand how important child custody issues are. Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+