Survey Results Regarding Costs and Length of the Divorce Process in Florida

If you are the process of divorcing in Florida, you may be curious as to how much it costs to retain an attorney. According to a recent survey, the average cost is around $13,500, and this includes a little over $10,000 in attorneys’ fees.

The survey also found that the average hourly rate charged by Florida divorce lawyers is about $260 per hour. However, that ranges from about $150 per hour to as high as $450 per hour. Most Florida attorneys bill on an hourly basis.

The remainder of the costs include the filing fees, mediation and cost of copying and serving documents. Other expenses include expert witnesses and financial analysts.

Factors that Contribute to the Costs

There are a number of different factors that contribute to the overall costs of divorce in Florida. Divorces where the spouses are able to agree on most concerns cost less than those where there are many disputed issues.

Child Custody Disagreements

A Florida divorce where child custody issues are involved can be expensive. The survey results state that cases that involve child support and custody issues cost about $20,000 to resolve, and this includes over $17,000 in attorneys’ fees. Divorces without children involved cost about $13,200.

Taking Your Case to Trial

If your divorce is going all the way to trial, there is a tremendous increase in cost. This is because the attorney must spend a good majority of his time preparing paperwork for trial, interviewing witnesses and preparing opening and closing statements. The added costs of expert witness testimony are added to the overall cost of your divorce.

The Length of the Divorce Process

There is no long, mandatory waiting process in Florida like there is in other states, but there are a number of factors that may contribute to a lengthy divorce process in Florida. When a couple has minor children, sometimes courts like to wait to see if the couple will reconcile. The survey concluded that Florida divorces that involved minor children took about 17 months to complete, and that’s seven months longer than the average divorce.

Also, if the divorce goes to trial, the survey showed that it took an average of 17.5 months to complete from start to finish.

Simplified Dissolution

In some instances, if the couple has no minor children, they may be able to expedite the divorce process, known as a simplified dissolution. The couple must have an agreement as to how to divide the assets and debts, and neither spouse can request alimony.

It May Not Be Possible To Have a “Good Divorce”

Is it really possible to have a “good divorce”? Can you maintain a strong friendship with your ex? Can you do better than all the people you know, or know of, whose relationships deteriorated into petty arguing and heated confrontations? No, according to Phillip Hodson from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. You may be able to avoid the worst behavior, but it is not realistic to expect an entirely friendly divorce.

Hodson says we need to acknowledge “the primitive.” Another psychologist says that trying to have a “good divorce” can actually make things worse. It is better to prepare for the reality of feeling hurt and your spouse feeling hurt. That will better prepare spouses to deal with their actual emotions. Planning for an overly-sunny outcome can actually lead to conflicts becoming more heated.

People who are escaping a truly bad marriage expect to be happy, but they may underestimate the sense of loss that their divorce will bring. Psychology professor Jane Reibstein says, “Divorce is not just a legal event, but a psychological and social process. It’s about two people who were in love and the trust and expectations they had. You were waking up with that person. Now you have to change the whole way you live. It requires an enormous adjustment.”

Professor Reibstein’s advice is to create some distance with the ex-spouse. It will not help to stay in touch with them. If you have children or a business together, communication will be necessary, but the contact should be limited to practical matters.

Florida divorce attorneys know that some counsellors and psychologists suggest having a talk at some point with your ex about what went wrong. (Presumably this would be before you try to create some distance.) Understanding the reasons for the divorce will make it easier to form a new life.

Assets and Debts Are Divided in Divorce

Many people get married, and around forty percent of the ones who do get divorced. Very few of those people go into a marriage understanding how assets, and debts, will be treated in a property division if the marriage is terminated.

In most cases, individual assets that people had before a marriage remain theirs even in a divorce, as long as they were kept separate in the original holder’s name. The same is true for inherited property or inherited money that were received during the marriage.

Some assets are not so simple, though. If you owned a business before marriage and it grew in value during the marriage, an ex-spouse could claim that they contributed to the increase in value and claim some of it.

Even money kept in separate accounts could be considered marital property if the funds were used primarily for ongoing household expenses, like a mortgage. For anyone really concerned about protecting money from a future divorce, it would be best to keep separate accounts as separate as possible, and not use those accounts for shared expenses.

Any assets acquired during the marriage will generally be considered shared property in a property division.

Florida divorce attorneys point out that Florida is an “equitable distribution” state. Unlike other equitable distribution states, though, a court in Florida will begin with the assumption that it will make a half-and-half split of all assets. From there, the court will consider other factors, and may reach a conclusion that is far from a 50-50 split. The other factors include the length of the marriage, the incomes of each spouse, financial behavior during the marriage and after, and other considerations.

When it comes to debts, spouses keep pre-marital debts too. If a spouse came to the marriage with credit card debt and student loans, they won’t generally become the other spouse’s problem.

At least not directly. The creditors on those debts could still pursue payment from shared assets that the two spouses have together. If a potential spouse has bad spending habits, it may be worth a second thought about marrying them, or at least worth some practical planning for a worst-case scenario.

More Grandparents Are Raising Their Grandchildren

More and more grandparents are raising their grandchildren. Part of the explanation is the poor economy, but another reason is the increased emphasis on keeping kids from troubled homes out of foster care if they can be placed with a relative.

Child custody issues related to divorce may or may not play a part. There are many reasons why parents may not be prepared to do the parenting of their children. U.S. Census data shows that grandparents are raising nearly 3 million children in the United States. That represents an increase of 8% over the past decade. The biggest jump came after 2008 when the economy went sour.

Experts say that the primary reason children are raised by grandparents tends to be that the parents are abusers of alcohol or drugs. In addition, some parents are unprepared simply because they themselves are very young. Mental health problems, financial problems and criminal court problems that lead to incarceration all contribute to the number of kids raised by grandparents.

Some observers believe the actual number of children raised by grandparents is underestimated.

Some also say that when the bad economy forced parents to move back in with their kids’ grandparents, grandchildren stayed with the grandparents when the parents moved to find work.

It is difficult for many grandparents navigating the poor economy and their reduced retirement accounts with more mouths to feed and more energy needed for keeping up with young children.

One grandmother raising grandkids said, “We’re squeaking, but we’re okay. It’s hard, but you just kind of play it by ear and you hope that you raise them to be really decent, good people.”

Tips for Divorcing Parents Who Have Children

Any divorce that involves children has extra complications. How will you be able to get your children through this difficult experience? Every family has its own unique factors to consider. There is no one good answer to how it should be handled. But there are some general good practices to keep in mind that can make the process less painful for children.

  1. Encourage Children to Talk About How They Feel

Parents need to talk to their kids about what the kids are thinking and feeling. The parents also need to keep this discussion separate from their own feelings. Parents should be prepared to deal with strong feelings from the children that either parent or both are responsible for the divorce and the loss of their normal family life.

Most kids struggle with divorce for two or three years. That is not to say they “get over it” by the end of that time, but it is normal for them to have the strongest feelings for that length of time.

Tempting as it is to tell children not to have certain feelings, it does not work. Children, and adults, have the feelings that they have. Forcing them not to express unhappy feelings will make them less likely to share their true feelings with you.

  1. Take the High Road

It is difficult, but adult conflict should be kept away from the children. It is important never to say bad things about your ex-spouse in front of the kids. The single biggest factor in kids’ readjustment after divorce is the level of adult conflict they have been exposed to.

  1. Don’t Use the Children as Messengers

It is tempting to use kids as go-betweens, since they are on speaking terms with your ex-spouse and you may not be, but don’t do it. Also, resist using the kids to find out what is going on in the other household. The kids do not want to “spy” on their parents.

  1. Adjustments to New Mates and Mates’ Children Are Difficult

Blended families can add some temporary stress to kids’ worlds. Make sure your children continue to get one-on-one time, and that lines of communication are open.

  1. If You Need Help, Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For It

If you need support, you can get it, whether the need is large or small. Family, friends, religious organizations and support groups have advice and willing to help.

  1. Take Care of Yourself and Keep Stress Low

Stressed-out parents will have a hard time lowering their kids’ stress. Set a good example. Florida divorce attorneys know that lower stress all around will benefit everyone involved in a divorce.

DoD Invests in Youth and Child Care Programs to Strengthen Military Families

As the burdens of multiple tours of duty, absences by one or both military spouses from the home, combat injuries, and increased family responsibilities have fallen on military families, the rate of military divorces has begun to climb. According to recent divorce statistics released by the Pentagon, the military divorce rate in 2010 finally leveled off at 3.6 percent after climbing steadily from 2.6 percent in 2001.

Pentagon officials credited this leveling off of the military divorce rate to greater emphasis on strengthening family bonds among military family members and providing greater support programs to military families.

One such initiative is a pilot to provide access and information about quality child care programs to military families. Having access to quality child care is especially important for military spouses while their husbands or wives are deployed. The military spouse that is left behind to take care of home and kids faces added stress when job duties encroach on child care time. The pilot, by the Military Family and Community Policy, aims to reach military families that do not have access to free child care on a military base. Florida is one of 13 pilot states for the program, which provides information about child care for military families in their local communities. The Department of Defense also plans to construction more child care spaces to accommodate military families’ requests for child care.

These types of community supports will probably be necessary for years to come to bring down the military divorce rate. As one expert on military divorce noted, the leveling off of the military divorce rate in 2010 was not a “trend.” A military spokesperson for Blue Star Families added that her organization is hopeful that the leveling off in military divorces is a sign that the Department of Defense’s efforts to support and strengthen military families is finally showing dividends.

Women in Military at High Risk of Divorce

Marriage can be hard, and military life can be even harder. Put them together, and things can get really tough. Eventually, the strains mean that something has got to give, and frequently that means that a military marriage ends. But for women in the military, it gets even worse: they are more than twice as likely to divorce as men in the military.

Enlisted women are closer to three times more likely to divorce than enlisted men, and female service members divorce at a higher rate than civilian women.

Approximately 220,000 women have served in Afghanistan and Iraq in roles ranging from helicopter pilots to police officers. Last year, 7.8% of women in the military got a divorce, compared with 3% of military men, according to Pentagon statistics. Among the military’s enlisted corps, nearly 9% of women saw their marriages end, compared with a little more than 3% of the men.

Divorce always has negative consequences, but for military women, a divorce often represents a breaking point. It may even put them at greater risk for homelessness when they leave the military.

Military kids suffer too. Florida military divorce attorneys note that there have been thirty thousand single mothers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

So why are military women more prone to divorce? Some observers believe that even thought there is a fair amount of equality in their military roles, women are still facing very high expectations when it comes to their family roles. In most situations, men do not face the same expectations.

Another analysis, though, says that more traditional men join the military, whereas women who go the military route are less conventional, and may be less willing to stay in a bad marriage.

There is another factor at work: half of the married women in the military are married to a fellow service member, but only ten percent of the married men are married to fellow service members. The strains of military life are twice as strong in marriages with both spouses serving. Since women are more frequently in this situation, women are more frequently divorced.

Is Criminal Charge Justified for Snooping On Spouse’s E-mail?

Is it illegal to snoop on your spouse’s e-mail? That will be the question before the court in the case of Leon Walker. He “hacked” into his wife’s e-mail (she kept the password in her address book next to the computer), and found that she was having an affair. Now the couple has filed for divorce, and Walker has been charged with unauthorized access to a computer in order to “acquire, alter, damage, delete or destroy property.”

The case is being heard in Michigan, but Duval County divorce lawyers will be very interested in the outcome of the case. Many Florida divorce cases begin with the discovery, via e-mail, text messages or social media, of infidelity or other secrets. If one spouse can be prosecuted for looking at another spouse’s private communications, it could change the situation in many family law cases.

The law Walker is being charged under is usually used against hackers intent on making money or causing damage.

Walker’s wife had been married twice before. By snooping, Walker discovered that she was having an affair with her second husband. Walker says that he had every right to poke around in the computer because he was concerned that his wife’s ex-husband might be abusive around their young children. The ex-husband had previously been convicted of abuse.

Other arguments Walker will make include: that he bought the computer in question, that it was in his home, and that his wife left the password where anyone could find it.

Walker said, “I felt that with the risk to my daughter and to my stepson, I had an obligation to check. I had no choice.”

The prosecutors in the case disagree. They feel the case is justified. But the defense will say that the law does not apply to domestic snooping.

A bigger question will be whether it is worthwhile for police and courts to pursue criminal cases when people have been looking at someone else’s e-mail or other private communications.

Parents Spending More Time With Their Children

Despite the fact that Florida divorces are much more common than they have been in previous decades, there is also good reason to say that, statistically, families are stronger today than they have been for a very long time. Why? Because mothers and fathers are spending more time with their kids than in previous generations. And, incidentally, the divorce rate has at least stopped increasing.

A recent study from the University of San Diego called “The Rug Rat Race,” by Garry and Valerie A. Ramey, examined the statistics of how much time parents are spending with children.

The study found that college-educated parents are spending more time overall with their children than parents without college. College-educated mothers increased hours spent with childrent to 21.2 hours in 2007, from just 12 hours in 1995.

Fathers with college education doubled time with the kids: from 4.5 hours to 9.6 hours during the same years. The number for parents without college were: mothers – 10.2 hours to 15.9 hours, and fathers – 4 hours to 8 hours.

The discrepancies between college-educated mothers and those without college was not due to the non-college mothers working more hours. The study found both groups averaged 25 hours of work per week. What the study concluded was that there was more sharing of housework in college-educated households, and this gave the mothers in that group more time to spend with the children. (Sharing of housework was up in both groups, but moreso in the college-educated segment.)

Another theory put forward by the study is that the college-educated parents are putting in more time preparing their children for college. There was more time spent with older kids than younger ones, which would support this theory.

The study looked at time spent together, not just time in the same building, which accounts for increases since 1965, despite the fact that more mothers were at home with children in the 1960s.

How a Spouse Can Cash a Joint Tax Refund

When it is time again for taxes, filing a joint return with your spouse may save you cash. The reason that some couples decide to file together is to receive special tax credits that they would not get as an individual. This type of refund will come from the IRS in the form of one refund check. Both names will be on the check and both parties are technically required to put their signature on the check before it can be cashed.

Concerns with Direct Deposit

Lately, many men and women are having the IRS deposit their refunds directly into their bank accounts. Once the money is there, it can be used or taken out by either spouse. There is no law that states that your spouse cannot have access or spend the refund, even if you happen to be the main wage earner for that tax year. When filing a tax return, there is an option for sending the refund to an individual account rather than a joint account in order to protect the funds once they are deposited.

Exception for Deceased Parties

If the return has already been sent to the Internal Revenue Service and one spouse dies before the refund is sent back, the spouse who survived does have the ability to cash the refund check themselves. In most cases, the surviving spouse will need to have a copy of the death certificate on hand as proof in order to cash the refund check. In the event the deceased does not have a surviving spouse, the refund check will then be placed into probate along with the estate. After probate is cleared, the refund may then be cashed using the clearance of probate paperwork and a death certificate. The executer of the estate will be required to sign the check and then take it to be cashed in person.

Power of Attorney Exemption

A power of attorney will allow a spouse to cash a refund check in a few circumstances, such as when the other party is in jail, out of the country or not available. The spouse must sign off on the power of attorney for it to be effective. A specific or general power of attorney will be enough for the bank. For those couples signing off on a specific power of attorney, there must be language within it that covers signing IRS refund checks. Additionally, a power of attorney will allow the spouse to handle different financial aspects while the other party cannot do so.

What Happens if a Check Gets Cashed Without a Signature?

There are options in the event a joint refund check gets cashed without both signatures. If a name has been forged on the check and the bank cashed it, fraud charges may be pressed against the guilty spouse. Under the IRS laws, it is a crime to cash a check without the signature of both parties. If a joint refund check has been cashed without the signature of the other spouse, this person has the right to get in contact with the state attorney general’s office or the Internal Revenue Service to start an investigation.