Month: March 2016

Florida Alimony & Timesharing Reform Update

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Timesharing/Visitation on Thursday, March 31, 2016.

It’s a nail biter. The Legislature’s alimony and timesharing reform bill has not been sent to the Governor yet. Once the Governor receives it, he will have 15 days to veto it.

I’ve been following Florida’s alimony and timesharing reform movement for a while. The Florida Bar Family Law Section has been lobbying the Governor and his staff, and trying to get as much press as possible, highlighting the problems with a premise of a 50/50 timesharing.

As USA Today reports, the legislation could have major impacts positive and negative on alimony, child-support payments and time-sharing of children.

The proposal sets out a formula for judges to use when deciding alimony payments, and is without a retroactivity provision. The retroactivity provision in the last bill moved the governor to veto the alimony reform bill in 2013.

The bill, which would take effect October 1st, would set guidelines for judges to set alimony based on the duration of marriages and the incomes of the parties. If a judge deviates from the guidelines they would have to explain why in writing.

The bill replaces permanent alimony with new formulas based on the length of the marriage and the spouses’ incomes. Those formulas help set the amount and duration of the payments.

It also advises judges to implement equal time-sharing of children between parents. The new provision to timesharing states:

In establishing a parenting plan and time-sharing schedule, the court shall begin with the premise that a minor child should spend approximately equal amounts of time with each parent. Using this premise as a starting point, the court shall formulate a parenting plan and time-sharing schedule taking into account the best interest of the child after considering all of the relevant factors in subsection (3). It is the public policy of this state that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing. There is no presumption for or against the father or mother of the child or for or against any specific time-sharing schedule when creating or modifying the parenting plan of the child.

The USA Today article is here.

Child Custody Decision: Homeschool or Public School?

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Child Custody on Sunday, March 27, 2016.

A Mother wants to homeschool her daughter. The Father wants the child to attend public school. A Pennsylvania appeals court had an interesting ruling on that child custody dispute.

The Mother and Father have a daughter. By order of the trial court, dated September 29, 2008, the Mother and Father shared legal custody, and Mother had primary physical custody. Then inn February 8, 2011, the Father’s legal and physical custody rights were suspended.

The Mother is very religious, and believes that those who do not practice her conservative Christianity are inherently immoral and corrupt. Her child has historically has been isolated, and her only significant source of interaction has been in the context of church.

The father argued that Daughter should be sent to public school because of his disapproval of mother’s religion, and his skepticism about religion.

On July 27, 2012, the child’s attorney requested that the child continue enrollment in public school, and the trial judge ordered her to matriculate in the Fairfield School District.

I’ve written about child custody decisions and homeschooling before. In this case, the Mother appealed, and the Pennsylvania Court of Appeals reversed. With any child custody case, the Pennsylvania Court, as do the Florida courts, applies the best interests of the child standard.

This standard requires a case-by-case assessment of all of the factors that may legitimately affect the physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual well-being of the child.

The Mother argued that the trial court was dictating to her how to raise her daughter.” She contends she should be able to home school her child to protect her from negative influences in public school.

The appellate court concluded that the Father and guardian failed to establish that public school was in the child’s best interest. It noted a lack of evidence about the academic appropriateness of home schooling, despite the fact the child wanting to attend public school.

One judge went so far as to concur, stating

We would do Children more harm than good by assuming the day-to-day parenting decisions, a function we are ill-equipped to carry out…. To decide otherwise is to inappropriately micromanage this family.

There is no Florida case on point, but the Pennsylvania case and a Kansas case are probably the correct approach.

One thing to avoid is allowing family court judges to rely on their feelings of whether homeschooling is better or worse for children. A judge has to base the decision on substantial and competent evidence in the record.

The opinion of the Pennsylvania Appellate Court is here.

Parent Free Speech: Can the Judge Gag You?

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Child Custody on Friday, March 18, 2016.

Can a child custody judge order you not to speak to your children about something? A Washington mother just found out the hard way.

I’ve written about free speech and divorce after a Venezuelan mother was ordered not to speak Spanish to her child. But, what about the content of your speech, can a judge stop you from talking?

A Washington State husband, Charles Black, learned a surprise from his wife, Rachelle Black. They were married for 7 years, had three children, and raised their children in a conservative Christian home; sending them to religious-based schools.

Seven years after marriage, Rachelle told Charles that she was gay, and began a romantic relationship with another woman. Two years later, Rachelle filed for divorce.

Rachelle told the children she was gay, gave her oldest child a book about sexuality and faith, and showed the two oldest children a documentary about a transgendered child.

The trial judge felt it will be too challenging for the children to reconcile their conservative religious upbringing with the changes occurring within their family’s sexuality, and ordered

“that the mother refrain from having conversations with the children regarding religion, homosexuality, or other alternative lifestyles”

The Washington Court of Appeals reversed:

Our courts have upheld restrictions on certain types of unprotected speech when they have served the best interests of the child. But while the welfare of children is the State’s paramount concern in dissolutions, restraining speech merely based on content presumptively violates the First Amendment . . .

[E]ven in the context of family law, content-based speech restrictions are presumptively unconstitutional.

The trial court also gave the Father ultimate decision making for the children’s religious upbringing, and the court reversed that ruling too:

There must be a substantial showing of actual or potential harm to the children from exposure to the parents’ conflicting religious beliefs; this harmonizes the children’s best interests with the parents’ constitutional rights to free religious exercise.

The opinion of the Washington State Court of Appeals Division Two is here.

Upcoming Talk on Children’s Issues

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Speeches on Tuesday, March 15, 2016.

On March 17th, I’ll be speaking in Ft. Lauderdale on Family Law Trends and Hot Topics in the Area of Children’s Issues, an event sponsored by The Florida Bar Continuing Legal Education Committee and the Family Law Section.

This broad and useful seminar is designed to assist the family law practitioner by discussing the latest trends in the law.

Topics include understanding the power of parenting relationships in divorce, child support guidelines for split-parenting timesharing schedules, parentage issues for same sex couples, expert testimony and the impact of the Daubert decision, and ethical considerations when dealing with children in contested family law matters.

The seminar will then conclude with a distinguished panel of judges from different geographical areas to discuss how they approach and decide contested timesharing cases.

The event is open to the public, though registration is required.

The brochure for the event can be found here.

The event’s website information can be found here.

Divorce Tips: After the Case is Over

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Agreements on Monday, March 14, 2016.

Forbes magazine has an article about some important things to immediately implement your marital settlement agreement to make it work.

I’ve written about practical tips for divorce before. Consider that once the lawyers are gone, all you have to show is a piece of paper. Putting that final judgment aside could be a mistake.

There are some immediate steps to take to ensure your interests are protected – and your financial documents reflect your new marital status.

As Forbes magazine asked: What should you change? In two words, almost everything.

Once your divorce is final – meaning a final judgment is entered – you should review and revise, if necessary, the following legal and estate planning documents:


Powers of Attorney (property, healthcare, HIPAA, etc)


Life insurance policies

Retirement accounts

What can happen if you don’t?

One example is common. If your ex-spouse remains the beneficiary of your life insurance policy and you pass away, the proceeds will go to your ex-spouse instead your children. That may be what you intend, but probably not.

The opposite can also be true. In Florida, the plain language of the documents controls. To the extent your or your former spouse claimed a right to remain as the beneficiary under a life insurance policy – as a condition of the dissolution of marriage – your rights can be waived.

In one Florida Supreme Court case, a life insurer sued to determine whether a former wife or the former husband’s sister was entitled to proceeds of his life insurance policy. The Florida Supreme Court held that the former wife of the insured remained primary beneficiary on his life insurance policy.

Also, consider your retirement accounts. After a divorce, you may revise your Will to reflect your desire that your 401(k) goes to your children, but if your wife remains the beneficiary of the plan, she will receive those funds.

Retirement plan designations can trump estate plan stipulations. The same is true for life insurance; proceeds will go to the named beneficiaries of those policies and not to persons named in a Will or other estate plan document.

A divorce judgment is legally binding. If, as a part of your divorce, you agreed that your ex-spouse would remain the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, don’t change the beneficiary designation on the policy itself. But, if that was not your intention, and the agreement is clear, unless you implement your marital settlement agreement, you could be in for a surprise.

The Forbes magazine article is here.

Collaborative Divorce: Florida Law Update

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Agreements on Thursday, March 10, 2016.

If you wish you could collaborate to reach agreement in parenting and financial issues, now you can. Florida just passed the Collaborative Law Bill. What’s the collaborative process all about?

I’ve written extensively on all types of alternatives to court to end your divorce and paternity disputes. The Collaborative Law Process is a voluntary way to resolve your case by agreement – and without the threat of litigation.

It starts when both sides and their lawyers sign a “collaborative participation agreement,” committing to a cooperative process.

The lawyers must withdraw if the process fails, so lawyers are motivated to resolve your case. It also costs less, takes less time, causes less stress, opens up new possibilities and should be considered by every couple separating.

Last week, the Florida Legislature passed the Collaborative Law Bill. The bill created Florida’s new Collaborative Law Process Act. The Act is based on the Uniform Collaborative Law Rules, which were created by the by the Uniform Law Commission in 2009.

The rules have already been adopted in 12 states, the District of Columbia and three sections of the American Bar Association. Passage of the Collaborative Law Bill puts Florida at the forefront of family law again.

The new law will provide much needed law for beginning, concluding, and terminating a collaborative law process. It also provides statutory privileges and confidentiality of communications to facilitate the process.

The collaborative law movement started in 1990. Today, collaborative law lawyers like myself are helping resolve disputes in every state of the United States, and in every English-speaking country.

Under the new law, the following issues are subject to resolution through the collaborative law process:

-Marriage, divorce, dissolution, annulment, and marital property distribution;

-Child custody, visitation, parenting plans, and parenting time;

-Alimony, maintenance, child support;

-Parental relocation with a child;

-Premarital, marital, and post-marital agreements; and


In the collaborative process, the spouses and lawyers meet in a series of sessions at one location which is attended, if necessary, by a forensic accountant and mental health professional who are mutually chosen by the lawyers.

Everyone is tasked with discussing a wide range of possible resolutions for both parties; much more than are ever available in litigation.

Because you are designing your own solution, parties to the collaborative process are more pleased with the results and future compliance than those who have to litigate.

Collaborative Law has been available in Florida for years, and now it will be protected by statute. The Effective Date of the new law will be July 1, 2016, but you can start your Collaborative case right now.

Can You Force a Parent to Timeshare?

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Timesharing/Visitation on Monday, March 7, 2016.

It may seem like an off-topic post when there’s a timesharing bill to make equal timesharing law. But what about the other extreme, the parent who refuses to visit at all, can you force it?

Briefly, no. However, Florida Statutes do incentivize, motivate and encourage timesharing. For example, when a parent fails to regularly exercise time-sharing, the amount of child support can be adjusted as if it was a substantial change of circumstances.

Additionally, the modification of child pursuant is retroactive to the date the non-timesharing parent stopped regularly exercising the time-sharing schedule.

Another incentive for timesharing is to craft the agreement in such a way that if a timesharing parent misses their scheduled visit, they pay for the costs associated with having to cover timesharing. For instance, if you have to hire a babysitter for that time, that should be covered in your agreement.

I’ve discussed timesharing recently. Florida has been debating several bills in the legislature that would make equal timesharing the premise for all timesharing plans.

In fact, the Florida alimony reform bill just passed the Senate late last Friday, in a 24-14 vote. The bill is joined by a sister bill in the House, which was added to Special Order Calendar for today.

The bills, which would take effect October 1, 2016 would not only set calculation guidelines for judges to set alimony, but would make equal timesharing the start of court-ordered parenting plans.

Lost in these debates over equal timesharing is the very real problem of parents who do not timesharing with their children at all. We sometimes forget in the battle for equal timesharing that timesharing has to be forced in many instances.

However, forcing a parent to timeshare is a difficult topic. As a policy, we want both parents to timesharing with children. Timesharing is good for the kids, and allows the other parent a breather.

Equal Timesharing Law Update

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Timesharing/Visitation on Thursday, March 3, 2016.

Eight more days left in this legislative session, and the new alimony/equal timesharing bill is scheduled for a 3rd reading. But, some last minute changes to the language have been added.

I’ve been following the updates to Florida’s alimony and timesharing laws weekly while the legislature is in session. The alimony and timesharing bill has opposition in the House, which is why the Senate is trying to soften the language.

The amended version states:

In establishing a parenting plan and time-sharing schedule, the court shall begin with the premise that a minor child should spend approximately equal amounts of time with each parent. Using this premise as a starting point, the court shall formulate a parenting plan and time-sharing schedule taking into account the best interest of the child after considering all of the relevant factors in subsection (3)

The former version of the new bill stated:

Absent good cause, it is the public policy of this state that the best interest of each minor child is served by a time-sharing schedule that provides for substantially equal time-sharing with both parents.

A lot of people are opposing the legislation. They insist the proposed changes will hurt women and children and that the legislation could reopen already settled divorce cases, dragging people back into court.

The Family Law Section of the Florida Bar supports the alimony changes, arguing that it will bring consistency to cases where awards can vary widely from judge-to-judge. But the Section has argued in favor of dealing with custody issues separately.

The last go-around, Governor Rick Scott vetoed a 2013 bill that would have applied to divorces already granted. That retroactivity was later removed, but alimony legislation died in the acrimonious 2015 session.

After this past Tuesday’s vote, the bill is ready for a full Senate vote. Meanwhile, the House alimony legislation (HB 455) steers clear of child custody issues but matches the Senate on a range of other changes.

For example, the House alimony proposal gives judges guidelines and a formula for determining the amount and duration of alimony, along with conditions where modifying an award can be made.

It eliminates many of types of alimony that are familiar to couples. Bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative and durational would be scrapped, along with permanent alimony. The bill also allows alimony payers to seek payment modifications if their divorced spouses get 10% increases in income.

It is an interesting time for family law in Florida. This is the eighth week of 2016 Legislative Session, and there are only 8 Days until the End of Session.

The Palm Beach Post article is here.