The State of Florida does not require parents to pay for a child's college education, nor does the federal government. Still, a parent who is getting a divorce and who is concerned about the payment of future college expenses for a minor child should be prepared to raise the issue of college expenses with a Coral Springs child support lawyer early on in the proceedings.
Payment of college expenses can be negotiated through an attorney. A parental agreement regarding college expenses can be made part of a mediation agreement or marital settlement agreement, and thereafter ratified and made part of a Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage.
Key Questions Related to Children's Education
Divorcing Coral Springs parents who are contemplating whether to agree to payment of future college expenses should consider the following questions:
What exactly is meant by the term "college expenses"? Are college expenses limited to tuition and textbooks? What about room and board, computer equipment and transportation costs? How about the costs associated with extracurricular activities? What about semesters abroad?
When will the payment of college expenses begin and end? Will the parent be contributing toward the cost of a bachelor's degree or will the parent be paying for college through graduate school? What if your minor child ultimately chooses to pursue a Ph.D. or post-doctoral education?
How will the child's college education be funded? Will both parents be funding an education savings account? Will either parent be required to take out loans to support the child's education? What contingency plan could be set up in the event that one or both parents experiences financial hardship?
How will the tax benefits generated as a result of either parent contributing for college expenses be allocated?
Where will the child be attending college? Out-of-state universities are typically more costly than in-state universities. If a minor child chooses to attend an out-of-state university, what will the financial impact be for each parent? What if your child chooses a university in a foreign country?
Who will be responsible for college expenses in the event that the child squanders educational benefits? If a child fails to maintain a certain grade point average, would that limit or eliminate a parental requirement to provide college funding?
In light of the issues that need to be addressed when determining whether to fund a child's college education, it is important for divorcing parents to raise these issues in advance with their child support attorneys. Your lawyers can define what level of contribution (if any) you may be able to make toward a child's college expenses. He or she will also work to protect you by ensuing that any proposed marital settlement agreement incorporates specific language setting forth what college expenses are and are not, along with date limitations on periods of contribution.
Parents pondering the future payment of college expenses should be realistic about what they can and cannot agree to. It is natural for parents to want the very best for their children in all aspects of life. Parents who are struggling with the difficult emotions that surround a divorce may be particularly vulnerable to financially unwise decision-making when it comes to future college funding. Divorcing parents should therefore discuss the matter with Coral Springs child support attorneys prior to entering into any agreement regarding payment of college expenses.
"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me."
Whoever said that probably never went through a divorce. As your lawyer probably will caution throughout the divorce process, words can hurt in any number of ways. Finding the right ones (or refraining from using the wrong ones) when talking to a spouse can be difficult.
The following DOs and DONT's are helpful when dealing with spousal communication.
DON'T say anything to your spouse that can be later used against you in a court of law. This includes leaving angry voicemails, writing hurtful letters, or sending hostile texts or emails. All instantaneous communication devices are dangerous for persons going through a divorce, because words exchanged in the heat of the moment can be recorded and saved. For example, your spouse may be late in dropping off the children for a time-sharing exchange. Texting, “If you don’t bring the kids now I am going to kill you” is unwise. Your spouse could easily save the text and use it as an exhibit in a petition for injunction for injunction against domestic violence. There is no way for the court to know whether a threatening text is said in jest. Before sending that text, before sending that email, stop and think about how it will sound if read aloud in a court of law.
DO communicate with your spouse on all matters involving your minor children. When going through a divorce, some spouses are tempted to withhold information, such as information regarding children’s doctor’s appointments, sporting events and parent-teacher meetings. Do not withhold this information. Pursuant to Florida Statute 61.13, one of the factors that the court is required to consider when determining parental responsibility and time-sharing is “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." By communicating appropriately with your spouse regarding the children, you are demonstrating your capacity to live up to the standard for shared parenting set by Florida law.
DON'T use your children as messengers. Using children as messengers puts a terrible emotional burden on them that they are unequipped to shoulder. It is not the children’s job to let the other parent know about a doctor’s appointment or a parent-teacher meeting. The court considers using children as messengers to be grossly inappropriate. Another factor in Florida Statute 61.13 that the court considers when determining parental responsibility and time-sharing is “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.” Using a child as a messenger demonstrates that the parent does not have the capacity to put the child's needs first. This is especially important when a judge considers the best interest of the children.
DO keep your guard up. If there are no children involved in the divorce, it may not be necessary to talk at all. As Euripides wisely opined, "Silence is true wisdom’s best reply." When in doubt, refrain from talking with your spouse until you have discussed the matter with counsel.
According to Florida Statute 61.29(1), "each parent has a fundamental obligation to support his or her minor or legally dependent child." Child support is a parental obligation, not a parental right. The right to be financially supported belongs to the child, not the parents. Federal and state laws therefore preclude waiver of child support. An agreement to waive a child's right to support is generally unenforceable because the child's best interests are of primary importance to the courts.
Many parents make the mistake of believing nothing will happen to them if they stop paying child support. That couldn't be more untrue. In fact, the penalties for failure to pay as mandated by a court order are especially harsh, and could include criminal charges.
The parental obligation to support a minor or legally dependent child involves much more than just one parent paying a predetermined amount of money to the other parent. It means making sure that a child has acceptable shelter, food, clothing and healthcare. It also means that if a child is fortunate enough to have a parent with abundant means, the child should benefit from that abundance.
How 'income' is defined
When calculating the cost of child support, an experienced Coral Springs attorney will likely begin by carefully reviewing records regarding the incomes of both parents. What counts as "income" is specified in Florida Statute 61.30(2) and includes:
salary or wages
bonuses, commissions, allowances, overtime, tips, and other similar payments
business income from sources such as self-employment, partnership, close corporations and independent contracts
all workers’ compensation benefits and settlements
reemployment assistance or unemployment compensation
pension, retirement, or annuity payments
social Security benefits
interest and dividends
income from royalties, trusts, or estates
reimbursed expenses or in kind payments
gains derived from dealings in property, unless the gain is nonrecurring
Each parent's contribution to healthcare expenses and daycare expenses also needs to be accounted for. The amount of time that each parent will be spending with the child also affects the final child support calculation. All of these factors need to be considered in accordance with the guidelines schedule which is set forth in Florida Statute 61.30(6).
What if both parties agree?
It is important to note that, although a child's right to child support cannot be waived, it is sometimes possible for parents to agree that neither is required to pay child support to each other. This may be the case when both parents earn similar incomes, are contributing an equal amount to healthcare and daycare expenses or are spending an equal amount of time with their minor child. In that circumstance, an experienced attorney may prepare a marital settlement agreement with clear and unmistakable language indicating that the child is being supported equally by both parents. Child support guidelines would still need to be part of such an agreement, along with language specifying that the arrangement is in the child's best interest. It would then be up to the court whether to ratify and approve agreement.
Calculating a fair and appropriate child support obligation can be surprisingly complicated. Discussing the specific details of your child support matter with a qualified Parkland attorney will assist in making decisions that benefit your child, while ensuring that you pay only what you are required to.
Failure to pay child support is a very serious issue to the state of Florida, as well as the federal government. If a parent does not pay child support after being ordered to do so by a court, he or she likely will experience a number of negative consequences. The penalties for deliberately failing to pay child support are severe. Our lawyers wrote this blog to enumerate some of the possible consequences, as well as discuss a couple of options for parents who may be struggling to keep up with their child support payments.
Penalties are Steep
Non-Payment of child support could result in:
A Finding of Contempt: A parent who is ordered to pay child support by a court (hereinafter referred to as the "obligor") and fails to do so may be found in contempt of court. If a court determines that the obligor has willfully failed to pay child support when he or she had the means to do so, the obligor could be subject to fines, sanctions and even jail time.
Driver's License Suspension: The State may suspend the obligor's driver's license and/or motor vehicle registration for non-payment of child support.
Professional License Suspension. The State may suspend an obligor's professional licenses and certificates for non-payment of child support. This may include, but is not limited to, the licenses or certificates necessary to practice as a certified public accountant (CPA), real estate broker, doctor, nurse, pharmacist, teacher, child care provider or collection agent.
Seizure of Assets. Federal income tax refunds, state lottery winnings, and unemployment compensation can all be intercepted by the government to pay child support. Bank accounts may be levied.
Liens. A lien can be placed on the obligor's real property or personal property, such as a boat, motor home or recreational vehicle. If the obligor attempts to sell the real or personal property, the lien becomes a potential hindrance to sale and must be paid in connection with any sale of the property.
Garnishment. The obligor's income may be garnished or attached to pay past-due child support.
Passport Denial. The United States Department of State may decline to issue or renew a passport to an obligor who is delinquent in payment of child support.
These are just some of the potential consequences of failing to pay child support. Each child support enforcement case is unique, and the government has many enforcement tools at its disposal.
What if you fall behind?
A parent who is struggling to keep up with child support payments is not without options. It is a fact of life that parents sometimes lose their jobs, get sick or struggle financially for other reasons. When parents find themselves in a temporary financial bind, they may work with their lawyer to file a motion to temporarily abate child support payments. Parents who experience a more substantial and permanent change of financial circumstances may request that their attorney file a petition to modify their child support obligation.
When child support is not paid, the consequences can be harsh. Therefore, wise parents will do everything possible to comply in good faith with any court orders, and promptly seek help from a Coral Springs child support lawyer if they fall behind in payment.
According to Black's Law Dictionary, a deposition is "a witness' out-of-court testimony that is reduced to writing (usually by a court reporter) for later use in court or for discovery purposes," in which the client is required to answer questions posed by the opposing party's divorce lawyer. Responses to those questions can later be used in court, and may also precipitate more digging into certain aspects of the case.
During the deposition, the opposing divorce attorney will attempt to gauge the client's credibility. The client's presentation, appearance and truthfulness will be scrutinized. This might sound intimidating, but with advanced preparation, it doesn’t have to be.
Here are some essential tips for getting through:
Before the Deposition
PREPARATION WITH ATTORNEY. The client's divorce lawyer plays a crucial role in his or her success. Clients should meet with their attorney at least once to go over the rules of deposition and questions that will likely be asked. A practice session may be held, and the attorney might provide the client with written instructions on the deposition process. The client should review his or her attorney's instructions carefully well in advance of the deposition.
DRESS AND GROOMING. As stated earlier, the opposing party's attorney will be observing to determine how the spouse will present in court. We advise our clients to dress in the same proper attire as they would for court. This serves to show the opposing party that the process is being taken seriously.
FATIGUE AND ANXIETY MANAGEMENT. It is helpful to be well-rested before a deposition. Getting sufficient rest the night before a deposition will assist the client in managing his or her emotions. For the same reason, it is beneficial to have a light meal prior to being deposed.
During the deposition
TELL THE TRUTH. The client does not benefit in any way by lying. When asked questions that are embarrassing, the client may understandably be tempted to be dishonest, but should always answer truthfully to the best of his or her knowledge.
LISTEN CAREFULLY. It's much harder for a client to tell the truth when he or she hasn't really listened to the question. Anxiety and defensiveness can make active listening difficult. The client should strive to remain calm and listen attentively to each question posed.
KEEP IT SIMPLE. While clients should always answer questions truthfully, they should not volunteer extraneous information. Long, rambling explanations are unnecessary. If a question calls for a simple "Yes" or "No" answer, clients are advised to stick to that.
REFRAIN FROM JOKING. During a deposition, the court reporter or videographer records just about everything said. A wisecrack made in jest may cause chuckles when spoken, but will sound terrible when read out loud in court. Clients should keep in mind that anything they say may be used against them in a court of law.
The aforementioned are just a few points to keep in mind when a deposition is imminent. By working closely with their attorney throughout the process, Coral Springs and Parkland clients will survive a deposition – and might even conquer it.
When you show up to a Broward County courtroom for the first time, the judge knows nothing about you or the other party beyond what's in written court filings. During a hearing, the parties are generally not permitted to address the judge unless specifically directed to do so. Even in silence, a form of communication with the judge and with all others present is taking place. From the moment the parties enter the courtroom, their appearance speaks volumes.
Points to consider
What does my attire say about me?
Does my attire demonstrate respect for the court and for myself?
Does my attire show that I am taking this process seriously?
What impression am I creating?
While impressions are not as important as facts, they do matter. For example, if a client is involved in a dispute over parental responsibility, the moral fitness of each parent is a factor that the court is required to consider pursuant to Florida Statute 61.13. For example, If a party wears a t-shirt to court displaying questionable content, this could create the impression that the client is not morally fit. Mental and physical health are other factors that the court must consider, according to the same statute. If a party dresses in an outlandish, bizarre manner or fails to follow basic rules of personal hygiene, the client's mental or physical health may be called into question.
Business attire or similar
In the 17th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, where most Broward County clients are likely to have cases heard, business attire is suggested when attending court. It's just a recommendation – likely as an accommodation to those who might not own such clothing – but a client should strive to dress in a way that shows self-respect, personal dignity and the utmost respect for the court.
Appropriate attire for court does not have to be costly or ostentatious. After you have retained a Coral Springs family law attorney, ask him or her for useful suggestions regarding your choice of clothes. All human beings are inevitably influenced to some degree by the personal appearance of others. When involved in a family law court case in Coral Springs, dress like it matters. All other things equal, attire could be the determining factor in your case.
When parents can't agree, child custody lawyers often step in
Making medical decisions for a child is a parental responsibility. Pursuant to Florida Statute 61.13(2), parental responsibility should be shared by both parents unless shared parental responsibility is determined to be detrimental to the child. Florida Statute 61.046(17) defines shared parental responsibility as "a court-ordered relationship in which both parents retain full parental rights and responsibilities with respect to their child and in which both parents confer with each other so that major decisions affecting the welfare of the child will be determined jointly."
When it comes to medical decisions like whether a child will be vaccinated or whether a child will be prescribed a certain medication, parents are supposed to make a decision together, even if they are no longer a couple. Florida Statute 61.13(2) requires that parents submit a parenting plan which spells out who is responsible for healthcare decisions. This requirement provides a useful opportunity for parents to discuss healthcare decisions in advance, before an emergency arises.
Disagreements frequently arise
Unfortunately, situations do arise when well-meaning parents have diametrically opposed opinions regarding a healthcare decision. For example, one parent is convinced that a child suffers from ADHD and requires a prescription for this condition. The other parent is vigorously opposed to this course of treatment due to religious, ethical or other reasons. If the parents are unable to reach agreement, they may choose to litigate. The parent seeking (or opposing) treatment would need to plead in court that shared parental responsibility regarding healthcare decisions is detrimental to the child. The parent could also request that the court grant ultimate decision-making authority to one parent. If the parents are in the process of divorce, the request for ultimate decision-making authority regarding medical decisions would be part of the petition for dissolution of marriage. If the parents are already divorced, or were never married, the parents would likely need to have an a Coral Springs child custody attorney work on their behalf to file a supplemental petition for modification or initiate an action specifically to establish parental responsibility and decision-making rights.
Detriment to the child must be proven
A parent seeking the ultimate right to make medical decisions must prove that detriment to the child will occur if shared parental responsibility continues. The court may order that a guardian ad litem become involved to investigate allegations affecting the child. The role of the guardian ad litem is discussed in Florida Statute 61.403. A guardian ad litem is appointed to advance the best interest of the child. This person may interview the child and any other person having information concerning the child’s welfare. The guardian ad litem may inspect the child’s medical records and any other records relevant to the child's welfare. He or she may even request expert examinations of the child and the child's parents by medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, or other mental health professionals. The court often orders that the fees and costs of the guardian ad litem are borne by both parents.
Parents seeking ultimate decision-making authority regarding a child's healthcare should be prepared with facts and credible evidence. They should also be prepared to cooperate fully with the guardian ad litem if one is appointed. The court's primary consideration when considering which parent will make medical decisions will be the child's best interest, as dictated by the laws governing Coral Springs and Parkland.
Many pet owners view their pets as part of the family, perhaps even as precious as children. When pet owners are involved in divorce proceedings, they may wonder, who gets the pet? While Florida law is clear regarding parental rights and responsibilities regarding minors, custody laws pertaining to children do not apply to pets. In the eyes of the law, pets are considered to be personal property, not unlike a piece of furniture or a painting. Like other pieces of personal property, if the property is marital, it is subject to equitable distribution pursuant to Florida Statute 61.075. If the property is non-marital, it is set aside to the spouse who acquired it as a non-marital asset.
How Does it Work for Debra, Joe and Buddy?
EXAMPLE 1. Debra got her dog Buddy from the local shelter when she was a teenager, well prior to marrying Joe. She retained the documents establishing her ownership of Buddy, and all of Buddy's veterinary records have only Debra's name on them. In this scenario, it is reasonable to conclude that Buddy is Debra's non-marital asset, and should therefore remain in her possession in the event of divorce.
EXAMPLE 2. Debra and Joe obtained Buddy after they got married from a purveyor specializing in his particular breed. They used their joint checking account to purchase Buddy, and continued to share the expenses of caring for Buddy throughout the marriage. Legally, Buddy is marital property and subject to equitable distribution.
Obviously, a pet cannot literally be distributed like a checking account or 401K. However, a pet can be assigned a value like any other piece of personal property, and arguments can be made as to why the pet should remain in the possession of one spouse or the other. Although Florida courts do not view pet custody as they do child custody, the law does require owners to provide proper care for the domestic animals they have chosen to acquire.
'Possession' and 'Property'
Note that the words "possession" and "property" are used throughout this discussion, rather than the word "custody." This is because Florida law, and indeed the law in virtually all states, does not provide for the concept of pet custody. Neither does it provide for pet visitation or sharing arrangements. This matter is well-settled in Florida case law. In Bennett v. Bennett, a 1995 appellate case, the First District Court of Appeal made the following observation:
"While several states have given family pets special status within dissolution proceedings... we think such a course is unwise. Determinations as to custody and visitation lead to continuing enforcement and supervision problems... 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."
In view of the foregoing, responsible pet owners going through a divorce proceeding should not rely on the court to make appropriate arrangements for the residency and care of pets. In the event of a dispute as to ownership, pet owners can work with counsel to negotiate a mutually acceptable solution for the ultimate disposition of a pet.
While many people know that family law judges find facts, decide cases, and interpret the law, many are unfamiliar with the concept of "discretionary powers." Judicial discretion allows Florida judges to exercise judgment based on what, in their opinion, is fair under the under the given circumstances while also following the rules and principles of the law. The concept of judicial discretion has a long history in both American and English law.
Source of Powers of Discretion
Judicial discretion is derived from several sources. Statutes often grant discretion by stating that a judge may or may not elect to do something in matters involving a particular law. However, just because a judge may exercise discretion does not necessarily mean he or she will deviate from previous rulings in similar cases. The rules of civil and criminal procedure are also teeming with examples in which a judge may exercise discretion. Certain areas of law, including family law, juvenile, and probate generally allow for greater judicial exercise of powers of discretion than others.
Child Custody Fact-Finding Missions
Judges presiding over family law cases have a fact-finding role in motion hearings, bench trials, and also as case managers in jury trials. They are permitted to exercise discretionary power in determining what evidence will be allowed, how the evidence will be considered by the judge or jury, and what remedies are available. In family law cases, judges use discretionary powers in deciding what they feel is best for the children. These powers come into play frequently in complex child custody cases.
Discretionary Powers in Evidence
Evidence that is presented at trial is subject to the broadest exercise of judicial discretion. Not only do judges determine whether evidence will be allowed or disallowed, but once these determinations are made, cases are rarely overturned based on evidentiary rulings. Therefore, choosing a Coral Springs child custody lawyer who has a great deal of knowledge and experience in presenting and arguing admissibility of evidence is of great importance.
Often, a judge may be required to weigh certain factors in making a determination. In the absence of language stating otherwise, judges are not restricted from weighing certain factors more than others. In family court matters, judges must consider that no two cases are identical; therefore, factors may be weighed differently when deciding a child or divorcing family's best interest.
Making the Most of It
While some may be frightened by the notion of judges having so much flexibility, powers of discretion also may provide an opportunity for more individuals to receive a fair, equitable outcome. For this reason, individuals who are involved in a criminal or civil case should retain a lawyer in the interest of winning pretrial motions, which generally are much more difficult to effectively appeal, and in putting their best foot forward before the court. A lawyer can personalize a case to help the court view his or her client as a human being versus simply a plaintiff or a defendant. Excellent presentation can bring a client's story to life when a judge is otherwise limited to the details that are printed on paper.
In instances in which an appearance before a judge is necessary, individuals may improve their probability of success by making a positive impression on the judge. Dressing appropriately, remaining calm and reasonable, and listening intently and respectfully are basic practices that will likely influence the judge and impact his or her decision-making to an extent. For most people, the first step to understanding discretionary power and its role in the criminal or civil matters they face is to seek out a helpful attorney. Having the guidance of a knowledgeable child custody attorney in Coral Springs can ensure that individuals better understand their case and are adequately prepare for their court appearance, if necessary. Furthermore, an experienced custody lawyer can provide reliable answers to your questions in addition to explaining the concept of discretionary power, its potential impact in the case at hand, and ways in which judicial discretion may be leveraged in your favor.
When a Coral Springs couple with children opts for divorce, the court may encourage the parents to attend parenting courses in the interest of equipping the separating couple to move forward with sharing child custody. Parenting classes generally do not focus on teaching the separating spouses to maintain a relationship with each other. Instead, these courses emphasize co-parenting, which is aimed at nurturing the relationship the child has with each parent. Though courses differ by location, the goal is to help parents in the various ways they may struggle while attempting to co-parent throughout the divorce process.
Why a Court May Order Parenting Classes
While courts often order divorcing parents to attend courses to help them learn co-parenting skills, there are other situations in which classes may be required. If the court believes a child may be at risk when in the custody of one or both of its parents, the parent in question may be required to take classes. Examples include individuals who have been charged with abuse or neglect and those who are perceived by the court to lack general parenting skills. Courses that are intended to help parents who have been charged with child abuse or neglect typically focus on safe and age-appropriate ways of disciplining and healthy, effective anger management in addition to developing other day-to-day parenting skills. Classes that are required to be completed by both parents before the court will issue a judgment are called mandatory parenting classes. Courses that must be completed by prospective adoptive and foster parents are also mandatory classes. These courses seek to address the issues that often arise when parents are caring for a non-biological child, including disability and history of abuse or neglect.
Choosing a parenting class
When a court orders parenting classes, it will typically provide a list of approved course providers. If the court does not provide a list, parents should check with the local clerk for additional guidance prior to choosing a class. Doing so will ensure the course meets the court's requirements. Upon finishing the required classes, parents will need to submit a certificate of completion to the court. In some instances, the course provider may submit the certificate to the court on the client's behalf; therefore, class attendees should verify the course provider's policy prior to completion.
Some jurisdictions now offer parents the option of taking classes online. Online courses are convenient for individuals who are unable to attend onsite classes or those who have major scheduling constraints. These classes may be completed privately at the attendee's desired pace; they can be accessed from virtually any computer that has an internet connection. If the court has not expressly stated that online courses are acceptable, a parent who wishes to take an online course may submit the Web address and course information to the court to determine whether the course meets the court's requirements. If the court does not approve the online course, the parent will be required to choose a different course that is acceptable to the court. Individuals may also consult their child custody and visitation attorney when choosing a course to help ensure proper compliance in accordance with Coral Springs laws.
Although some may view taking classes to be a cumbersome obstacle, court-ordered parenting courses should be viewed as a necessity for creating and growing a healthy relationship between a child and both parents. Therefore, parents should take heed if the court decides to require classes in the best interest of the children. Failure to comply with the court's orders can prolong or delay divorce proceedings or even jeopardize a parent's legal right to have custody with his or her child. Moreover, a contentious divorce or limited interaction with a parent is likely to negatively impact the child. Every loving parent wants what is best for his or her child; therefore, complying with a court order benefits the entire family.