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Saint Lucie County Legal Issues Blog

The top 10 Florida child custody cases in 2018

Our state's appellate courts saw some interesting child custody cases throughout the year of 2018. The Florida Chapter Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (FLAFCC) has put together a list of the top 10 cases of interest across the board. They touch on a variety of issues, with the subject of relocation continuing to be a "hot button" topic.

Let us look at some of the topics addressed. In one matter, a child's mother died unexpectedly. The child was being raised by the mother and stepfather, and had resided with them for several years. As such, the step-father filed for custody which was granted on a temporary basis until trial. The biological father was stationed in Germany and had very little contact with the child. The child fully wished to stay with the step-father. However, the appellate court determined that the trial court entered that ruling in error as the biological father had not been found unfit, and therefore maintained custody rights. The decision was remanded back to the trial court with instructions for the court to make additional findings as to why it would be detrimental to the child to relocated to Germany.

The expenses meant to be covered by child support

If a Floridian ever spends much time around a party who pays an ex-spouse child support, it is likely that at one point or another there has been mention of some disapproval in the way the money is spent. However, the receiving party may not always be in the wrong in what he or she chooses to purchase or pay for with child support funds.

It is a common misconception that child support monies are only meant to cover food and clothing. In reality, there are multiple other expenses that properly caring for a child entails. Just as it should be used for basic necessities, child support can and should be used for these additional expenses as well.

Late-in-life divorces often include high value assets

Most Florida couples do not expect to find themselves experiencing divorce after 40 years of marriage. However, it is becoming more and more common, and presents its own set of unique challenges. Late-in-life divorce is also sometimes referred to as a "silver divorce" or "gray divorce." They often result from regrets, resentments, or financial issues which have accumulated over time.

While older, more mature adults are much better equipped to handle the emotional aspects of a divorce, that doesn't mean it is any less painful or less complex to resolve. In fact, late-in-life divorces usually involve difficult asset division scenarios due to sentimental as well as monetary value of items collected over the years.

Child support and parenting time calculations

The amount of time a child spends with a parent is known as "parenting time" and it is calculated based on the amount of overnight visits a child spends with a parent within a 365 day period. Those nights are broken down into a percentage. For example, if a child spends 80 nights out of a year with one parent, then that parent maintains 22 percent parenting time.

A parenting pattern matters in the calculations of child support. If an original custody agreement only allowed a child 25 overnight visits a year with a parent, but in actuality the child had progressed to staying 80 nights a year, then child support could be recalculated. The basis for recalculation is the assumption that if a child is spending more time with a parent, then that parent is likely incurring more expenses in everyday needs. Regardless of an initially entered custody plan, a court can take into consideration an actual parenting pattern as it presently exists.

Protect your rights to parenting time with your child

Of all the precious things you may lose throughout your lifetime, some are recoverable, and some are truly gone forever. Unfortunately, lost time with your child is not something you can get back once you lose it. For parents who share custody, parenting time is certainly precious and deserves protection.

Sadly, some parents steal parenting time from each other or attempt to manipulate and control the other's parent-child relationship. If this behavior happens repeatedly, or if it is a serious violation, it may be parenting time interference. Parents who violate the other's parental rights may face a number of penalties, from losing privileges and having to make up for stolen time, to possibly serving jail time.

Amazon CEO announces divorce

The divorce announcement of Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, and wife, MacKenzie Bezos, was made via Twitter on Wednesday, Jan. 2. And, it likely shocked many Florida residents as the couple are considered to be the richest in the world, with Jeff Bezos having an estimated worth of over $137 billion. MacKenzie Bezos was one of the first employees at Amazon. However, she and her husband met prior to the Amazon start-up at a hedge fund and technology development firm by the name of D.E. Shaw, where Jeff was her boss.

It is said that the Amazon business plan was created by the couple during a cross-country drive from New York to Seattle. In addition to the global empire, MacKenzie Bezos is also a novelist. Her writings include Traps and The Testing of Luther Albright.

Mental health issues and child custody

In the state of Florida, spouses may only divorce on one of two grounds: either the marriage is irretrievably broken, or one spouse is mentally incapacitated. In the case of mental incapacitation, a spouse must have been deemed such for a period of at least three years. To be mentally incapacitated means that a person lacks the ability to make independent legal decisions. For this reason, a court will appoint a guardian ad litem to represent and protect his or her best interests in a divorce.

As is the case in any child custody litigation, the child's best interests will be at the forefront of any custody and visitation schedule. Mental illness is a hot topic of debate in these family law matters. The simple presence of mental illness is not enough to cause a court to deny a parent custody. However, its effect on parenting ability will be taken into close consideration.

Do step-parents have child custody rights after divorce?

More often than not, a step-parent and step-child relationship is completely severed when spouses decide to get a divorce. However, there are cases where the families have lived blended for a number of years, and the step-parent has played a significant role in a child's upbringing. In these situations, there can exist a close bond between the two, resulting in great emotional distress to a child when the parties split. So who gets to decide whether that relationship will continue?

If the child of legal age and considered an adult, then it is his or her decision to continue the relationship. If the child is still a minor, the decision is at the discretion of the court, and step-parent rights are very limited. According to a Supreme Court ruling, biological parents have a "fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control" of their children, including who has access to them.

Common mistakes in a high asset divorce

As stressful as the Florida divorce process is in general, a high-asset divorce can multiply the tension and stress substantially. When it comes to dividing assets such as businesses, high-value real estate, priceless artwork and offshore bank accounts, it can sometimes be difficult to determine whether full-disclosure is at play.

Let us discuss some of the most common mistakes wealthy couples make when going through divorce. First, as we mentioned above, maintaining full-disclosure is a must. When one spouse could potentially lose a lot of money or some pretty valuable assets, it can be tempting to hide them. For example, a business owner may transfer all or part of his ownership to a third party so that it cannot be considered an asset. The same can take place for high-value assets such as classic cars or artwork. Judges do not look favorably upon these transactions and can choose to punish them by awarding the other party more assets to compensate their losses.

Unique considerations in a late-in-life divorce

Most Florida couples do not expect to find themselves unfortunately wading through a divorce after 50 years of marriage. However, it is becoming more common, and presents its own set of unique challenges. Late-in-life divorce is also sometimes referred to as a "silver divorce" or "gray divorce." Often, these are the result of infidelity, regrets or financial issues that have taken place over a number of years.

An elderly married couple is likely to have accumulated a large number of assets over time, and will need expert guidance in determining their distributions. In addition, those assets are likely co-mingled, meaning that a completely equal distribution is difficult to obtain. In a late-in-life divorce, retirement accounts and social security benefits are priority issues. Also, where high-assets such as the marital home are paid for in full, equity then becomes a factor in negotiations if one party wishes to keep the home.