About Our Firm

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Founded in 1997 we are experienced and knowledgeable Tampa attorneys practicing exclusively in Divorce, Family, Stepparent/Relative Adoption, Criminal Defense, and Personal Bankruptcy. We practice primarily in the cities of Tampa, Riverview, Brandon, Valrico, Lithia, Carrollwood, Northdale, North Tampa, Plant City as well as Hillsborough County, Pinellas County and Pasco County. We have offices conveniently located throughout Tampa Bay. Our lawyers have extensive 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 as well as criminal defense. We offer a free consultation to discuss your options. Please call us at 813-672-1900 or email us at info@familymaritallaw.com to schedule a consultation. Our representation of our clients reflects our dedication to them. We look forwarding to hearing from you! Se habla EspaƱol.

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+

How Is Child Support Calculated In Florida?

When making decisions on child support during a divorce case, there is no one fixed number a judge will use. Instead, many different factors...