Family Law

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We handle all Family Law matters including simplified dissolutions (divorce), uncontested and contested dissolutions, property division, custody and time-sharing, alimony, child support, relocation, modification of alimony and time-sharing and child support, paternity, dependency matters, and child support enforcement.


We understand that conflict within a marriage or family can be overwhelming. We are committed to providing personalized and quality legal service and resolving your family law matter as quickly and as cost-efficiently as possible.

After years of experience in handling family law matters, we have found that the "trial by combat" approach to family law matters is unnecessarily expensive and counter-productive.
The enlightened approach to the resolution of family law disputes is to treat the financial issues as business matters and the parenting issues as matters usually best left in the hands of the mental health specialists. This is the approach of the courts if it is necessary to submit the controversy to a judge for final resolution. Gamesmanship, such as withholding or distorting information, only creates additional cost and suspicion and is in violation of the requirement for honest and full disclosure, rules which are frequently enforced by the courts. Even when the attorney and/or party on the other side of the case makes the case more difficult by failing to cooperate and engaging in strategies or tactics which make our job more difficult, we will endeavor to take the high road and continue to do what is right. We expect our clients to fully participate in this approach, which will be to your advantage in the final analysis of the case and will cause you to receive no less than you would have received by escalating the conflict between the parties. Rest assured, you substantially increase the likelihood of a favorable result when this approach is adopted, particularly if the issues between the parties involve children. This approach also can substantially reduce the expense of the process.

We pride ourselves on our professional approach to the practice of law. As a result, we worked hard to forge and maintain professional relationships with most of the family law attorneys and judges in our area allowing us to represent our clients to the best of our ability. We promote settlement and endeavor to discourage unnecessary litigation. However, should litigation become necessary, we will put on the best case for you.

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Simplified Dissolution (Divorce)

A simplified dissolution (divorce) is a divorce where the parties have no minor children and very few assets and/or liabilities (debts). Most importantly, the parties usually agree on the division of assets and the allocation of debts. The parties may choose proceed pro se (or without legal representation) using forms available from the local clerk of court. You may view these forms here. 

Many find these forms to be overwhelming. Should you find yourself unable to complete this form without assistance, we are available to help. If you are unable to afford an attorney there are low cost and cost-free alternatives. You may contact your local clerk for information regarding pro se clinics or contact the local bar association for recommendations.

In Escambia County, you may call the pro se coordinator at (850) 595-4407 for available appointments.

In Escambia County, fee legal services are available to eligible applicants through Northwest Florida Legal Services, (850) 432-2336.

Uncontested Dissolution (Divorce)

Our definition of an uncontested dissolution is a dissolution action where both parties agree on the division of property and, if minor children are involved, on the parenting plan and time-sharing schedules. A marital settlement agreement is the documents which memorializes the parties’ agreement regarding the division of property and allocation of debts. In an uncontested dissolution, the time a marital settlement agreement will be drafted and executed by both parties prior to the filing of the petition with the court. The same is true for the parenting plan and time-sharing agreements involving minor children. In an uncontested dissolution, a short hearing may be necessary; however, often times it is not.

Contested Dissolution (Divorce)

In a contested dissolution, the parties do not agree on either the division of property or the allocation of debt or issues involving the minor children of the parties. Contested dissolutions are often stressful. We endeavor to alleviate your stress by providing quality legal services at each stage of the process. A contested dissolution can involve several steps including discovery, mediation, and final hearing. The discovery process is important in a contested dissolution. This is where information regarding the parties’ assets and liabilities is exchanged. The initial discovery process is initiated by both sides providing mandatory disclosure. We will ask you to provide all of this documentation as soon as possible. Depending on the issues involved, additional discovery in the form of interrogatories (or written questions to the opposing party), requests for production of documents, and depositions may be necessary. Depositions are a legal tool which allow attorneys to talk to the opposing party, and potential witnesses to discover what they may testify to should the case proceed to final hearing. Once discovery is completed, you may be asked to attend mediation in an attempt to avoid the costs associated with attending a final hearing (or litigation). Mediation is usually held in an informal setting where both sides are encouraged to present their sides to a mediator with the hope that a compromise can be reached and time-consuming and costly litigation can be avoided. When mediation is not successful, the parties will prepare to present their respective cases to a judge at the final hearing.

Time-sharing

Time-sharing is a legal term used to define the amount of time each of the parents will spend with the minor child(ren).  While the court is must consider a whole host of factors (listed below) to determine what time-sharing schedule is best, the determination will boil down to what schedule is in the best interests of the children.  We understand that this is often the most stressful issue to resolve.  We will offer many suggestions and will help you to tailor a plan to suit your individual needs of your family. 

The first step is to determine what type of parental responsibility is appropriate (i.e., sole parental responsibility or shared parental responsibility).   The parties will usually decide that having both parents involved in the child’s life is in the child’s best interest.   It is for this reason that most parenting plans adopt shared parental responsibility where the parents primarily have a cooperative co-parenting relationship with regard to decision making and are able to plan jointly without outside intervention, are flexible in scheduling, and support each other in parenting the child and coordinating the activities and schedules of the child.  Shared parental responsibility is considers that it is the best interests of the child that the parents investigate, confer, communicate, cooperate and jointly make major decisions affecting the welfare of the child, prior to the implementation of the decision, except as otherwise agreed or ordered in this Plan.  Major decisions include, but are not limited to, decisions about the child’s education, healthcare, and other responsibilities unique to this family.  Sole parental responsibility is usually only adopted where circumstances exist showing that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child.

True to the its name, the next step is to determine a specific schedule for spending time with the child(ren).  This involves choosing a weekly or monthly schedule that is in the child’s best interests and a holiday schedule that meets your families’ individual needs.  We are prepared to offer many suggestions to help accomplish this task.

Time-sharing Factors

Determination of the best interests of the child shall be made by evaluating all of the factors affecting the welfare and interests of the particular minor child and the circumstances of that family, including, but not limited to:

(a) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required.

(b) The anticipated division of parental responsibilities after the litigation, including the extent to which parental responsibilities will be delegated to third parties.

(c) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent.

(d) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.

(e) The geographic viability of the parenting plan, with special attention paid to the needs of school-age children and the amount of time to be spent traveling to effectuate the parenting plan. This factor does not create a presumption for or against relocation of either parent with a child.

(f) The moral fitness of the parents.

(g) The mental and physical health of the parents.

(h) The home, school, and community record of the child.

(i) The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.

(j) The demonstrated knowledge, capacity, and disposition of each parent to be informed of the circumstances of the minor child, including, but not limited to, the child's friends, teachers, medical care providers, daily activities, and favorite things.

(k) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline, and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime.

(l) The demonstrated capacity of each parent to communicate with and keep the other parent informed of issues and activities regarding the minor child, and the willingness of each parent to adopt a unified front on all major issues when dealing with the child.

(m) Evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, regardless of whether a prior or pending action relating to those issues has been brought. If the court accepts evidence of prior or pending actions regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, the court must specifically acknowledge in writing that such evidence was considered when evaluating the best interests of the child.

(n) Evidence that either parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding any prior or pending action regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.

(o) The particular parenting tasks customarily performed by each parent and the division of parental responsibilities before the institution of litigation and during the pending litigation, including the extent to which parenting responsibilities were undertaken by third parties.

(p) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child's school and extracurricular activities.

(q) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child which is free from substance abuse.

(r) The capacity and disposition of each parent to protect the child from the ongoing litigation as demonstrated by not discussing the litigation with the child, not sharing documents or electronic media related to the litigation with the child, and refraining from disparaging comments about the other parent to the child.

(s) The developmental stages and needs of the child and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to meet the child's developmental needs.

(t) Any other factor that is relevant to the determination of a specific parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule.

Relocation

“Relocation” means a change in the location of the principal residence of a parent or other person from his or her principal place of residence at the time of the last order establishing or modifying time-sharing, or at the time of filing the pending action to establish or modify time-sharing. The change of location must be at least 50 miles from that residence, and for at least 60 consecutive days not including a temporary absence from the principal residence for purposes of vacation, education, or the provision of health care for the child.  The law requires a separate petition to relocate to be filed in order to accomplish relocation wherein the parties do not agree.  The court must consider the following factors (listed below)  when determining whether parental relocation is appropriate:

  (a) The nature, quality, extent of involvement, and duration of the child's relationship with the parent or other person proposing to relocate with the child and with the nonrelocating parent, other persons, siblings, half-siblings, and other significant persons in the child's life.

(b) The age and developmental stage of the child, the needs of the child, and the likely impact the relocation will have on the child's physical, educational, and emotional development, taking into consideration any special needs of the child.

(c) The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the nonrelocating parent or other person and the child through substitute arrangements that take into consideration the logistics of contact, access, and time-sharing, as well as the financial circumstances of the parties; whether those factors are sufficient to foster a continuing meaningful relationship between the child and the nonrelocating parent or other person; and the likelihood of compliance with the substitute arrangements by the relocating parent or other person once he or she is out of the jurisdiction of the court.

(d) The child's preference, taking into consideration the age and maturity of the child.

(e) Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for both the parent or other person seeking the relocation and the child, including, but not limited to, financial or emotional benefits or educational opportunities.

(f) The reasons each parent or other person is seeking or opposing the relocation.

(g) The current employment and economic circumstances of each parent or other person and whether the proposed relocation is necessary to improve the economic circumstances of the parent or other person seeking relocation of the child.

(h) That the relocation is sought in good faith and the extent to which the objecting parent has fulfilled his or her financial obligations to the parent or other person seeking relocation, including child support, spousal support, and marital property and marital debt obligations.

(i) The career and other opportunities available to the objecting parent or other person if the relocation occurs.

(j) A history of substance abuse or domestic violence by either parent, including a consideration of the severity of such conduct and the failure or success of any attempts at rehabilitation.

(k) Any other factor affecting the best interest of the child.

Paternity

A petition to establish paternity is appropriate when a child is born out of wedlock to establish rights and responsibilities with respect to the child.  Either parent may initiate this action to establish a support obligations and a time-sharing schedule.  It is important to note that until an adjudication of paternity, the mother is deemed the natural guardian of a child born out of wedlock. Moreover, if the paternity judgment does not contain a parenting plan or time-sharing schedule for the child, the mother shall be presumed to have all of the time-sharing and sole parental responsibility. The Department of Revenue/Child Support Enforcement will not establish time-sharing, etc. only child support.

Alimony

Alimony may be awarded to either party where it is shown that a party has an actual need for alimony or maintenance and the other party has the ability to pay alimony or maintenance.  Under Florida Law there are several different types of alimony including bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational, or permanent. (See the next tab for an explanation of different types) Alimony may be awarded under any of these types individually or in combination.  In any award of alimony, the court may order periodic payments or payments in lump sum or both.  We provide an analysis of all assets and advise our client’s of their potential risks with respect to incurring an alimony obligation and/or entitlement to an alimony award.

 Once need and ability to pay has been established the court will consider the following factors in determining the amount of alimony to award:

(a) The standard of living established during the marriage.

(b) The duration of the marriage.

(c) The age and the physical and emotional condition of each party.

(d) The financial resources of each party, including the nonmarital and the marital assets and liabilities distributed to each.

(e) The earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties and, when applicable, the time necessary for either party to acquire sufficient education or training to enable such party to find appropriate employment.

(f) The contribution of each party to the marriage, including, but not limited to, services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party.

(g) The responsibilities each party will have with regard to any minor children they have in common.

(h) The tax treatment and consequences to both parties of any alimony award, including the designation of all or a portion of the payment as a nontaxable, nondeductible payment.

(i) All sources of income available to either party, including income available to either party through investments of any asset held by that party.

(j) Any other factor necessary to do equity and justice between the parties.

A short term marriage is a marriage of less than 7 years, a moderate-term marriage is a marriage having a duration of greater than 7 years but less than 17 years, and long-term marriage is a marriage having a duration of 17 years or greater. The length of a marriage is the period of time from the date of marriage until the date of filing of an action for dissolution of marriage.

Types of Alimony

Bridge-the-gap alimony may be awarded to assist a party by providing support to allow the party to make a transition from being married to being single. Bridge-the-gap alimony is designed to assist a party with legitimate identifiable short-term needs, and the length of an award may not exceed 2 years. An award of bridge-the-gap alimony terminates upon the death of either party or upon the remarriage of the party receiving alimony. An award of bridge-the-gap alimony shall not be modifiable in amount or duration.

Rehabilitative alimony may be awarded to assist a party in establishing the capacity for self-support through either:

1. The redevelopment of previous skills or credentials; or

2. The acquisition of education, training, or work experience necessary to develop appropriate employment skills or credentials.

Durational alimony may be awarded when permanent periodic alimony is inappropriate. The purpose of durational alimony is to provide a party with economic assistance for a set period of time following a marriage of short or moderate duration or following a marriage of long duration if there is no ongoing need for support on a permanent basis. An award of durational alimony terminates upon the death of either party or upon the remarriage of the party receiving alimony. The amount of an award of durational alimony may be modified or terminated based upon a substantial change in circumstances. However, the length of an award of durational alimony may not be modified except under exceptional circumstances and may not exceed the length of the marriage.

Permanent alimony may be awarded to provide for the needs and necessities of life as they were established during the marriage of the parties for a party who lacks the financial ability to meet his or her needs and necessities of life following a dissolution of marriage. Permanent alimony may be awarded following a marriage of long duration if such an award is appropriate upon consideration of the factors set forth in subsection (2), following a marriage of moderate duration if such an award is appropriate based upon clear and convincing evidence after consideration of the factors set forth in subsection (2), or following a marriage of short duration if there are written findings of exceptional circumstances. In awarding permanent alimony, the court shall include a finding that no other form of alimony is fair and reasonable under the circumstances of the parties. An award of permanent alimony terminates upon the death of either party or upon the remarriage of the party receiving alimony. An award may be modified or terminated based upon a substantial change in circumstances or upon the existence of a supportive relationship.

Child Support

Child support obligations are set forth by Florida Statute.    The right to child support belongs to the child and, as a result, cannot be waived by either parent; however, a parent may be entitled to a deviation from the amount of child support presumptively established by statute.  Click here to view a sample child support guidelines worksheet.

Modification Actions

Whether you are attempting to modify child support, alimony or a parenting plan you will need documents from the previous court action including marital settlement agreements, time-sharing agreements, financial affidavits filed in the previous action, and final judgments. In order to make the most of your consultation for a modification, it is important to gather as many of these documents for our review to bring with you to the consultation.

Prenuptial Agreements

Prenuptial agreements are important to consider when contemplating marriage.  Prenuptial agreements should be thought of as a financial planning tool to protect your current and future assets and as shield from potential unwise financial decisions of your future spouse.  Click HERE to contact us for information on how to protect your economic and financial future.

Grandparent and Stepparent Adoptions

Click HERE to learn how we can help.

Support Unconnected with Dissolution of Marriage

Parents, whether married, separated, or divorced, are required to financially support their children. Similarly, if one spouse has the need for financial maintenance, and the other spouse has the ability to pay for that maintenance, a Florida court can order alimony, even if the parties are not divorcing.   Unlike divorce, which requires one of the parties to have resided in Florida for at least six months, an action for support unconnected with dissolution has no residency requirement. So, even if you have not lived in Florida long enough to file for divorce, this alternative family law action provides you with an avenue to seek money for your maintenance and the support of your children.   Contact us HERE for more information.

Tiffany T. Woodward
Jill W. Warren

912 East Brainerd Street
Pensacola, Florida  32503    
Tele.: 850.439.0011
Fac.:  850.439.0039

Office Hours
Mon. - Thurs.  8:30 - 5:00
Friday           8:30 - 12:00
Closed Daily  12:00 - 1:00

 

 

DISCLAIMER
The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.