About Our Firm

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Since 1997 we are Tampa attorneys practicing exclusively in Divorce, Family, Adoption, Bankruptcy & Mediation Services: practicing in Tampa, Riverview, Brandon, Valrico, Lithia and all of Hillsborough County as well as for bankruptcy in all counties in the Tampa Division of the Middle District of Florda: Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, Hardee, Hernando, Polk, and Pasco Counties. 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.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Later in Life Divorce & Finances

America’s divorce rate might be on the decline for most age groups, but amongst one group it’s hitting record highs. Who’s behind the spike? Baby boomers. The divorce rate for the over-50 crowd has more than tripled in the past 20 years, and the trend shows little chance of slowing. With Americans living longer and looking for more from their marriages, many are choosing to jettison an unloved spouse rather than spend their golden years with someone they no longer care for.

Unfortunately, many boomers are divorcing first and thinking later. Adjusting to life after a divorce is difficult under the best of circumstances, but divorce after 50 can have serious financial repercussions. Boomers need to understand the risks of late-in-life divorce, and take steps to prepare themselves before they file.

Financial Repercussions of Divorce

First, boomers need to consider their retirement. Have you and your spouse been saving money? Investing in a retirement plan? Whatever money you saved will now have to fund two separate retirements, which means that it likely won’t go as far. At best, this could mean that a person has to adjust their lifestyle and expectations; at worst, it could mean that a person would have to work much longer than anticipated.

Second, health care costs will likely rise. Health spending tends to increase as a person ages, but married couples are often able to defray some of these costs by caring for each other rather than hiring a nurse or a caregiver. Divorcing boomers need to consider who will care for them–and how much it will cost–before they experience a major health event.

Third, though some divorcees may anticipate short-term financial losses, older couples need to consider the long-term as well. If a person in their 30s goes through a divorce, they have decades to continue working, to make up any losses, and to prepare for their retirement. If a person in their late 60s chooses to divorce, they’ll have far less time to recuperate.

Finally, consider the difference between a “fair” division of marital property and an “equitable” one. While it might seem “fair” to split everything 50/50, it might be more “equitable” for a spouse who forewent their career to care for a family to take a greater share of the marital estate. Also consider which assets are easy to liquidate, should the need arise, and which assets might take longer to sell.

How to Prepare for Later in Life Divorce

The most important thing you can do before a divorce is initiated is to make sure that you have a handle on your finances. Do you know where your money is, and how to access it? Are your bills paid? Do your credit cards have a low balance? Does it seem like there should be more money in your joint account than actually is there? Find out now, if you don’t know.

Contact a Tampa Bay Divorce Attorney

If you are considering a divorce and are concerned about the effect it could have on your finances, contact our Experienced  Attorneys & Counselors at Law since 1997 Serving all of Tampa Bay. Call 813-672-1900 now for a free initial consultation www.familymaritallaw.com.

 By Lynette Silon-Laguna Google



Sunday, August 10, 2014

Til Death Do Us Part, Whether We Like It Or Not: Same Sex Divorce in Florida

In March, a Tampa-area couple made headlines when they filed for a divorce. What made their divorce so special? Their gender. The couple, both women, had been married in Massachusetts years before. When they decided to end their union, they thought nothing of filing their divorce action in the state where they lived. But the judge–and the state of Florida–had other plans.

Same-Sex Marriage in Florida
           
In 2008, Florida voters passed an amendment to the state constitution that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. State law also holds that marriages between same-sex couples that were entered into in other jurisdictions are invalid in Florida.
           
These laws have frequently been challenged. In mid-July 2014, a judge in Monroe County struck down the 2008 ban and stated that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. Just one week later, a judge in Miami made a similar ruling, holding that the ban was discriminatory and violated same-sex couples’ right to equal protection under the law. Both decisions have been appealed by the state Attorney General, Pamela Bondi.

Same-Sex Divorce in Florida

While those seeking to marry have made gains, those looking to leave their marriages have a long way to go. Several Florida courts have granted divorces to same-sex couples, but Laurel Lee, the judge in the Tampa case, refused to do so. In Lees view, because the state did not recognize the couple’s marriage, the court had no authority to end the union.
           
This ruling has serious implications. Generally, couples are required to divorce in the state and county that has jurisdiction over them. Jurisdiction is typically established by residence, or how long a person has lived in a particular state. This means that if Florida refuses to allow same-sex couples to divorce, they have two unsatisfactory options. First, one or both partners may choose to go to a state that recognizes their marriage and establish residency. Obviously, this is problematic­; it’s rare that a spouse would have the ability (let alone the willingness) to uproot their lives and move to another state for a number of months before they can even consider filing for a divorce. Second, the couple can choose to “self separate” and live as though they are divorced. Because Florida does not recognize same-sex marriages, agreements on child custody and alimony cannot be enforced. Furthermore, because the couple was never actually divorced, they can never remarry. Thus, many couples are being forced to spend their lives together–even if they don’t want to.
           
The Tampa couple is gearing up for a fight. Their attorneys claim that Florida laws prohibit same-sex marriage, not same-sex divorce. The Florida Bar Family Law Section is jumping into the ring as well, arguing that the couple is being "denied equal access to the courts."

Contact a Tampa Bay Divorce Attorney
           
For now, same-sex marriage and divorce are in a state of flux in Florida. It’s unclear how long the Attorney General’s appeals will take, and it’s uncertain of what will happen next. In such an unsettled atmosphere, it’s crucial that those considering a divorce get all the help they can. If you have questions about same-sex divorce, contact our Experienced  Attorneys & Counselors at Law since 1997 Serving all of Tampa Bay. Call 813-672-1900 now for a free initial consultation www.familymaritallaw.com.

By Lynette Silon-Laguna Google

Saturday, August 2, 2014

You Keep the Car - I Want the Cat: Divorce in Florida

Divorcing couples may expect a fight over who gets the car, the house, or custody of the kids–but do they expect a fight over Fido?

With more and more Americans viewing their fluffy friends as family members, it should come as no surprise that their squabbles over who gets to keep the cat are ending up in family court. But family law courts don’t always see animals the way that their owners see them. Pet owners must understand how the courts view animal custody, and learn how they can prepare themselves for a dispute.

The Current State of the Law
           
In many states across the country, including Florida, animals in divorce cases are seen as objects. Like toasters, silverware, and other inanimate objects, deciding who gets to keep a pet is seen as a matter of distributing personal property, not one of determining custody and visitation rights.
           
This view, which could potentially be traced to the days when animals were means of production and not companions, was cemented by the 1995 Florida case Bennett v. Bennett. When the couple divorced, they found themselves with one major problem: who would get custody of the family dog, Roddy. The trial court set a visitation schedule that elicited yet more legal wrangling between the parties. The case eventually wound its way to the appellate court, who dealt with the issue in just a few paragraphs. “While a dog may be considered by many to be a member of the family,” the court said, “under Florida law, animals are considered to be personal property.” It went on to hold that the trial court had “no authority” to grant visitation rights for personal property, and concluded that “Our courts are overwhelmed with the supervision of custody, visitation, and support matters related to the protection of our children. We cannot undertake the same responsibility as to animals.”

What to Do if You’re Concerned About Pet Custody
           
Despite the precedent set by Bennett, some courts are starting to acknowledge that a person’s relationship with their beloved pet is more complicated than their relationship with their vacuum cleaner. Pet owners who are concerned about what will happen to their animal when they divorce now have a chance of convincing a judge to order custody.
           
If you’re involved in an animal custody dispute, think first about who bought or adopted your pet. Because courts have traditionally seen animals as personal property, they may be more likely to award custody to the animal’s purchaser.
           
Regardless of whether you bought or adopted the pet, you should be prepared to show the judge that you are its primary caregiver and that it is in the animal’s best interests to remain in your custody. Gather evidence that you are the one who exercises the pet, feeds it, takes it to the vet and pays the bills for its care. Ask friends and neighbors for affidavits that demonstrate the animal’s bond to you. If your pet has ever shown signs of distress when you’ve been away from it for a significant time, present that evidence in court as well.
           
Finally, make it clear to the court that your concern is for the animal, and not for revenge. A judge will not look kindly on a person who never showed any interest in the family dog until they realized how much losing the animal would hurt their soon-to-be-ex spouse.

Talk to a Tampa Bay Family Law Attorney
           
If you’re going through a divorce or separation and are worried about what could happen to your animals, contact a Tampa family law attorney. Pet custody is a new and uncharted area of the law, but an attorney will be in the best position to understand the developments and present your case. Contact our Experienced  Attorneys & Counselors at Law since 1997 Serving all of Tampa Bay. Call 813-672-1900 now for a free initial consultation www.familymaritallaw.com.

By Lynette Silon-Laguna Google

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

When Does Child Support End in Florida?

Many divorcing parents are aware of their obligation to support their children, and some are familiar with how the amount they have to pay is decided. Fewer are aware of how long their obligation to support their children continues.

Payment Lasts Until Child Reaches Majority Age

In general, a parent must pay child support until their child is 18. This is considered the age of majority, when the child is legally recognized as an adult. However, a child's eighteenth birthday isn't always the cutoff date for support payments. According to Florida law, a parent's duty to continue paying child support may be extended when the child has not finished high school by their eighteenth birthday; when the child has special needs; and when there is an agreement that says otherwise.

First, parents of children who have not finished high school by their eighteenth birthday are obligated to support their children until the children complete their education. This doesn't mean that a child can stay in high school forever. Support will only continue if the child is still enrolled in school, has a reasonable expectation of finishing their education, and expects to graduate before their nineteenth birthday. Showing a "reasonable expectation" is often the key to qualifying for this exception. The child would most likely have to show that they are and have been enrolled in a school, that they have been regularly attending, and that they will meet the requirements for graduation. Under this statute a child who dropped out of high school at 17, or who is several years away from graduating, would not qualify for continued support. In contrast, a child who turned 18 several months before their graduation would be entitled to receive support until their graduation.

Second, child support may continue indefinitely if the child is mentally or physically disabled. In determining the length of time that support will continue, the courts will generally look at whether the child will ever be able to earn enough money to support themselves or whether their disability will prevent them from providing for themselves. It does not matter whether the child was born with their disability or whether they became afflicted with it at a later age. For the support to continue, all that matters is that the disability began before the child reached the age of majority, and that the disability will prevent the child from being financially self-sufficient.

Third, though parents have no legal obligation to continue supporting their children after the aforementioned circumstances, the courts will enforce voluntarily entered agreements that extend the period of support. Parents are prevented from contractually decreasing their child's right to support (because the right to be supported belongs to the child, and not to either parent), but there is no legal stipulation against providing more support than one is asked to. Thus, parents who decide to create a binding agreement to help their child beyond what is required will generally be held to the terms of that agreement.

Talk to a Tampa Bay Family Law Attorney
           
Whether you're contemplating a divorce or a paternity action, are in the middle of the process, or already have an order in place, a Tampa family law attorney can help answer your questions about child support. Contact our Experienced  Attorneys & Counselors at Law since 1997 Serving all of Tampa Bay. Call 813-672-1900 now for a free initial consultation www.familymaritallaw.com.

By Lynette Silon-Laguna Google