We understand that divorce is difficult and unpleasant. That’s why our experienced attorneys work to achieve the best results in every circumstance.
The Associates takes pride in assisting clients going through simple and complex matrimonial issues, including but not limited to; dissolutions of marriage (AKA divorce), alimony issues, parental responsibility and time-sharing disputes, child support matters, cases requiring business evaluations and business acumen, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, equitable distribution, domestic partnership agreements, appeals, and additional family law matters. With the assistance of our experienced attorneys, we work to avoid the considerable amounts of stress associated with litigating your issue on your own. But when negotiation is not an option, or your issue involves an unreasonable party, our firm possesses the knowledge and professionalism needed to achieve the goals we set together with you.
Finalizing a Divorce while Maintaining Your Rights
Divorce is a serious commitment that can bring up all kinds of negative emotions, including fear, worry, and anger. Concerns about what will happen to your family, your children, and your future are all normal and to be expected in many cases. Regardless of what may cross your mind now, take a deep breath and know that you have options. By working with an experienced attorney, you can get through this – all while keeping your sanity intact with confidence in the aptitude of our attorneys.
As your lawyer, firm founder David Lloyd Merrill will be dedicated to ensuring:
- The items that are yours will remain yours. The items that belong to the both of you will then be equitably divided and distributed between you and your partner and that, if applicable, your property is also equitably distributed.
- Alimony could potentially be awarded (or denied) based upon several factors including whether a need and ability to pay exists as well as the circumstances surrounding your marital arrangements and settlement.
- Assets taken from the marriage to pay for non-marital things will be properly accounted for.
- If applicable, child time-sharing and parenting plans will be created in a way that protects the best interests of the child(ren).
Determining Alimony Payments in Florida
Alimony has the potential to be one of the most contentious aspects of any divorce. One spouse will always feel he or she is going to pay too much, while the other contends he or she will receive too little.
Alimony is based first and foremost upon one spouse’s need AND the other spouse’s ability to pay. After that, Florida law sets the various types of alimony – and there are a number of them – based upon the length of the marriage as well as other factors. Imagine a series of seesaws – all of which are interdependent upon each other for coming to a final result. A judicial determination of alimony is somewhat analogous to that, which means that judges in Florida are given broad discretion to interpret alimony law and the facts of your case as they see fit. That makes having an experienced lawyer essential. In Palm Beach County or anywhere throughout the Treasure Coast, you can turn to The Associates for guidance and counsel on matters concerning alimony. Whether you are seeking or contesting alimony, we can help.
Schedule a free consultation today by calling (561) 877-1111.
Protecting Your Financial Interests Now and in the Future
Section 61.08(2), Florida Statutes, instructs trial courts that “[i]n determining whether to award alimony or maintenance, the court shall first make a specific factual determination as to whether either party has an actual need for alimony or maintenance and whether either party has the ability to pay alimony or maintenance. If the court finds that a party has a need for alimony or maintenance and that the other party has the ability to pay alimony or maintenance, then in determining the proper type and amount of alimony or maintenance…, the court shall consider all relevant factors…”. The statute then lists ten (10) factors which the court must consider, though this list is not exhaustive. Fla. Stat. 61.08(2)(a)-(j) (2012). Once the statutory factors have been considered, trial courts are then tasked with determining which type of alimony, if any, is to be awarded.
Bridge-the-gap alimony was intended to provide transitional assistance to a party who must
adjust their life from married to single. While courts have awarded alimony to a spouse with this purpose in mind for decades, bridge-the-gap alimony was not included in an alimony statute until 2010. See Murray v. Murray, 374 So. 2d 622, 624 (Fla. 4th DCA 1979) (“we believe that proof would justify a brief period of alimony sufficient to allow the wife to ‘bridge’ the gap between the high standard of living enjoyed during the brief marriage and the more modest standard that the wife can provide for herself”); Iribar v. Iribar, 510 So. 2d 1023, 1024 (Fla. 3d DCA 1987) (affirming award of $1,000 per month, for an 18-month term when wife requested a five (5) year term because wife did not need rehabilitation, “other than to ease her transition from a married to a single status.”); Borchard v. Borchard, 730 So. 2d 748, 751 (Fla. 2d DCA 1999) (affirming award of $25,000 as lump sum alimony payable at the rate of $1,000 per month because the wife did need “financial help during her transition to being a single mom.”).
According to the most current version of section 61.08, Florida Statutes, this type of alimony requires that there be evidence presented of the recipient’s legitimate, identifiable short term needs. Fla. Stat. 61.08(5) (2012). However, the statute places the following limitations on an award of bridge-the-gap alimony: (1) the length of the award may not exceed two years; and (2) the award shall not be modifiable in amount or duration. Id.
Rehabilitative alimony is a well-established form of alimony. In Canakaris v. Canakaris, 382 So.2d 1197, 1202 (Fla. 1980), the court explained that the “principal purpose of rehabilitative alimony is to establish the capacity for self-support of the receiving spouse, either through redevelopment of previous skills or provision of the training necessary to develop potential supportive skills.” Section 61.08(6)(a), Florida Statutes (2012), states the same purpose.
According to the statute, before a trial court can award rehabilitative alimony, “there must be a specific and defined rehabilitative plan which shall be included as a part of any order awarding rehabilitative alimony.” Fla. Stat. 61.08(6)(b) (2012). However, unlike bridge-the-gap alimony, this type of alimony may be modified or terminated based on the following circumstances: (1) if a substantial change in circumstances has occurred; (2) if the recipient is noncompliant with the rehabilitative plan; or (3) if the rehabilitative plan has been completed. Fla. Stat. 61.08(6)(c) (2012).
Like bridge-the-gap alimony, durational alimony was first included in section 61.08, Florida Statutes, in 2010. Prior to then, “durational alimony” simply did not exist as a recognized type of alimony. “The purpose of durational alimony is to provide a party with economic assistance for a set period of time following a marriage of short or moderate duration or following a marriage of long duration if there is no ongoing need for support on a permanent basis.” Fla. Stat. 61.08(7) (2012). However, the length of an award of durational alimony may not exceed the length of the marriage. Further, awards of durational alimony are only partially modifiable, as the amount of an award may be modified or terminated based on a substantial change in circumstances but the length of an award is not modifiable absent a showing of exceptional circumstances. Id.
Durational alimony was created by the 2010 alimony amendments as an intermediate form of alimony between bridge-the-gap and permanent alimony. Accordingly, at least one appellate court has noted the limited utility of pre-2010 cases in evaluating the propriety of a durational alimony award, “since they evaluate a different type of choice made by the trial judge.” Nousari v. Nousari, 94 So.3d 704, 706 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012).
Gardi v. Gardi, 322 So.3d 679 (Fla. 4th DCA 2021): The parties were married for eight (8) years. The Final Judgment contained specific findings that the Former Husband had a need and the Former Wife had the ability to pay durational alimony. The Final Judgment reflected at the trial court considered and made specific findings on each statutory factor set forth in 61.08(2), Florida Statutes. The trial court found their eight-year marriage was on the low end of a moderate
term; they considered the parties’ respective ages; and the parties’ health and earnings. The Former Husband was awarded $3,000 a month for three (3) years; and he appealed for abuse of discretion. In light of the trial court’s 15-page Order and its findings, the Court found there was competent substantial evidence to support the award of durational alimony rather than permanent alimony.
Permanent alimony was the original form of alimony awarded by courts. Today, specific statutory findings must be made before an award of permanent alimony may be granted. First, the court shall include a finding that no other form of alimony is fair and reasonable under the circumstances of the parties. Fla. Stat. 61.08(8) (2012). Second, the duration of the parties’ marriage indicates the type of presumption either for or against the requesting spouse. For example, permanent alimony may be awarded following a marriage of long duration upon consideration of the factors set forth in Section 61.08(2), Florida Statutes. Id. This language effectively creates a rebuttable presumption in favor of awarding permanent alimony following a long-term marriage. Hill v. Hooten, 776 So.2d 1004 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001) (“the court should bear in mind that this 17-year marriage is a long-term marriage which creates a presumption in favor of an award of permanent alimony. The presumption is, of course, rebuttable…”).
However, the shorter the marriage, the more compelling the requesting spouse’s situation needs to be for an award of permanent alimony to be granted and affirmed on appeal. Following a marriage of moderate duration “such an award is appropriate based upon clear and convincing evidence after consideration of the factors set forth in subsection (2), or following a marriage of short duration if there are written findings of exceptional circumstances.” Fla. Stat. 61.08(8)
(2012). Thus, while there is no presumption for or against awarding permanent alimony following a moderate-term or ‘grey area’ marriage, Margaretten v. Margaretten, 101 So.3d 395 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012) (“[t]here is no presumption for or against permanent alimony in this case because the parties’ marriage was a “grey area” marriage.”), there is a presumption against such awards following a short-term marriage. Pearce v. Pearce, 43 So.3d 95 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010) (“[i]n a dissolution of marriage action involving a short-term marriage, there is a presumption against an award of permanent periodic alimony, but the presumption is rebuttable.”).
Talk With an Attorney Before Agreeing to Anything
At the Associates, we are firm believers in helping couples come together to work out amicable settlements when possible. Even then, it’s critical that you and your spouse talk to an attorney before finalizing your agreement when it comes to alimony because it is possible to agree on something now, only to fall into a trap door of unexpected litigation later. We can review any proposed settlement and help you determine the right way to resolve your case.
And of course, if no agreement is to be had, we have decades of trial experience and know how to fight hard for you rights when the time comes.
If you would like to learn more, we invite you to contact our law firm, The Associates, in Palm Beach Gardens at 561-877-1111 to schedule a free consultation.
Helping Families Resolve Child Custody Issues
When it comes to issues related to family law and divorce, few are as emotionally charged as those involving child custody and time sharing (popularly, but incorrectly, known as “visitation”). At The Associates, we know that decisions related to custody and parenting time can be difficult to sort out, and we are committed to helping you and your family find the best possible solutions.
We strive to help parents work out custody arrangements that are mutually-beneficial and that meet the unique needs their children and family. By employing collaborative practice tactics, we represent your best interests and those of your children in discussions and negotiations related to where your children will live and who will make major decisions about their health care and education.
This approach allows you as a parent to have more of a say in and control over how issues related to physical and legal custody and visitation are decided. Co-parents who are able to successfully resolve child custody issues out of court save time and money and also lay the foundation for a more positive and effective co-parenting relationship going forward.
Florida law makes it clear that shared time sharing and parenting are presumed to be the norm. But sometimes terrible things have happened and you need to fight for the best interests of your child. In that case we stand resolute in assisting you with protecting your children and ensuring that the full force of the law is brought to bear to ensure that protection.
Disputed Child Custody Cases
It might be best to have the parents come together and make decisions together related to custody and parenting, that is not always possible. We are all too familiar with the fact that there are times when parents are unable to find common ground and it is necessary to take a case to court. This is often especially true in cases where there is a history of substance abuse or domestic violence. If you are involved in a custody dispute, we will fight to protect and promote your children's best interests.
To speak with a lawyer about your child custody case, call our Palm Beach Gardens law office at 561-877-1111. You can also contact us online.
Providing Answers And Advocacy In Child Support Matters
Regardless of how or why a marriage or relationship ends, every child deserves to receive financial support from both parents. At The Associates, we help parents understand their rights and obligations with regard to child support orders and payments.
In Florida, child support guidelines and amounts are defined by statute and determined by taking the following factors into account:
- Incomes of both parents
- Costs related to a child's education, child care and health care
- Costs associated with providing for a child's standard needs
Obtaining And Enforcing A Child Support Order
Many child support orders stem from divorce and child custody actions. In cases where a child's mother and father were never married, legal paternity must be established before a mother can seek child support and before a father can take action to file for visitation or custody.
Legal paternity can be established voluntarily in the hospital after a child is born or when both parents sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity. In cases where paternity is in question or disputed, a court order and genetic testing may be necessary. Once legal paternity is established, a petition for child support can be filed.
We support and provide legal help to parents who are involved in paternity disputes. Additionally, if a parent fails to comply with a child support order, we can assist in taking action to enforce the order and recover the financial assistance that your child needs and deserves.
Modifying A Child Support Order
The guidelines and requirements for determining and paying child support are complex and can be confusing. What's more, the penalties associated with failing to pay on time or the correct amount can be significant and include driver's license suspension, fines and time behind bars. For parents who experience a loss of income and who are unable to comply with a child support order, it's important to take legal action to have the support amount changed.
By filing a petition to modify an existing child support order, you can avoid a disruption in child support payments and any related penalties. We can assist in filing the petition and in making the case for why the request should be granted.
To discuss your child support case, call a lawyer at our West Palm Beach office at 561-877-1111 or contact us online.
Providing For Your Financial Security After Divorce
Making the decision to end a marriage is never easy and it's normal to feel emotional and anxious about the future. At The Associates, we know that this is a difficult time and that you likely feel overwhelmed by all of the changes you must contemplate and face. We also know that the decisions you make during your divorce can positively or negatively affect your life and the lives of your children for years to come.
When it comes to dividing property and assets in divorce, we take great care to make sure that you have the information you need to weigh your options and make sound decisions.
Before entering into any discussions or negotiations, we take steps to ensure that all marital assets and debts are accounted for, including:
- Bank accounts
- Investment accounts
- Retirement accounts
- Real estate
- Motor vehicles
- Household belongings
- Family heirlooms
- Business assets
Your Advocates And Guides Through The Divorce Process
Once all property, assets and debts are accounted for, it's important to determine the actual value of each asset or item. In Florida, marital property is divided based upon a principle known as equitable distribution meaning that each spouse should receive a fair, not necessarily equal, settlement.
You and your soon-to-be ex may be able to discuss and come to an agreement about some or many marital assets. Others, however, may be disputed or you may suspect that a spouse is hiding or intentionally undervaluing assets. When disputes arise related to the division of marital property, you need a lawyer who will fiercely protect your interests and who won't hesitate to take action to obtain a settlement that provides for your current and future financial security.
To learn more about how we can help you obtain a fair divorce settlement, call a family law attorney at our West Palm Beach office at 561-877-1111 or send us an inquiry through our online contact form.
High Net Worth Divorce
Representing High Net Worth Clients In Divorce Actions
From who gets custody of the children to what to do with a family home, in any divorce, there are many important issues that must be sorted out and decided. For couples with a considerable amount of assets, divorced-related issues tend to be more numerous and complex. Consequently, spouses who are involved in high-asset divorces are also more vulnerable to suffering significant financial losses when mistakes are made during the divorce process.
At The Associates, we provide the personalized attention and attention to detail that individuals involved in high net worth divorces need to ensure their interests are protected. Our lawyers are experienced in discovering and valuing the most complex types of assets, including:
- Business interests and assets
- Stocks and investments
- Retirement accounts
- Real estate
- Art and other valuable collections
Uncovering Hidden Assets
During a divorce proceeding, both spouses are required to provide a detailed list of any and all marital assets and debts. Unfortunately, some spouses take action to intentionally hide assets in the hopes that they will be overlooked and therefore not included in a divorce settlement.
It's likely no surprise that hidden assets are more common in divorces involving individuals with high net worth. Some of the common tactics employed by spouses who try to conceal assets include:
- Secret bank and investment accounts
- Gifts or loans to family members or friends
- Purchase of expensive art or other collectibles
- Delay of promotion or bonus
- Fraudulent business payroll or other accounting practices
To learn more about how we can help you in your high-asset divorce, call an attorney at our West Palm Beach office at 561-877-1111 or get in touch with us through our online contact form.
What Is Collaborative Divorce?
If you and your spouse are going through a divorce, let's face it: you already have enough stress to deal with. You should not have to worry about the legal process taking up all of your time and money.
Fortunately, that is where collaborative divorce comes in. Instead of bitterness, anger and lawyers telling you that you can have it all, you work with an attorney who can help you and your spouse find a positive way forward (You really can!).
At The Associates, we are led by experienced family law attorney David Lloyd Merrill, who has seen what happens to families when divorce disputes rage on endlessly. If you come to our office in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, we can help you determine if a collaborative divorce is right for you and your spouse. Not in Palm Beach Gardens? Let us know of a more convenient place to meet and we'll work that out for you as well, as we offer telephone and Zoom meetings as well as off-site in person meetings depending upon availability.
Getting Onto the Healing Path Faster
In a collaborative divorce, you and your spouse will sit down with your lawyers for the express purpose of creating a settlement. You will only have to appear in court once for an agreed hearing, giving you and your spouse much-needed privacy. If sticking points arise, you can bring in neutral experts — accountants, psychiatrists, etc. — to help find solutions.
There are aspects of your divorce that you must address at some point: custody, property division, child support, etc. While it may be fun to imagine two lawyers beating up on each other, why spend tens of thousands of dollars going to trial when you can work out a compromise and move on toward your new life for a fraction of that?
The collaborative process has lasting benefits beyond just getting through a divorce. Learning how to build consensus will make it easier for you and your ex-spouse to continue to work together to raise children, minimizing the disruption in your children's lives. It could also make it easier to modify the terms of your divorce if the need ever arises.