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Q: I am getting divorced. Do I need an attorney?
It ordinarily is a good idea to consult with a lawyer about major life events or changes, such as a divorce. S/he will protect your rights, as well as the rights of your children. S/he keeps current with the laws in your state concerning marriage, divorce, marital property, child custody and visitation, and family support.
Q: What are the legal grounds for obtaining a divorce?
The grounds for divorce depend on the state, and may be based on no-fault or fault. A no-fault divorce is available in some form in all 50 states, including Florida; many states also have fault-based grounds as an additional option. A no-fault divorce is one in which neither the husband nor the wife officially blames the other for the breakdown of the marriage. Common bases for no-fault divorce are "irreconcilable differences," "irretrievable breakdown" or "incompatibility." Another common basis for no-fault divorce is that the parties have lived separately for a certain period of time (varies from state to state) with the intent that the separation be permanent.
Q: Who determines how assets are divided in a divorce?
Generally, spouses are free to divide their property as they see fit in what is called a "marital settlement agreement," which is a contract between the husband and the wife that divides property and debts and resolves other issues of the divorce. Although many divorces begin with a high level of acrimony, a substantial majority are settled without the need for a judge to decide property or other issues. However, if the division of property cannot be settled, then the court must make the determination. Laws vary from state to state. As a starting point, many states allow both parties to keep their "nonmarital" or "separate" property.
In dividing marital property, the laws vary from state to state. Most states, including Florida, however, apply the concept of "equitable distribution," which means the court divides the marital property as it thinks fair. That division may be 50-50 or something else.
Q: How do courts determine who gets custody/parental responsibility of children in a divorce?
If the parents cannot agree on custody of their child, the courts decide custody based on "the best interests of the child." Determining the child’s best interests involves many factors, no one of which is the most important factor.
Q: How is child support determined in a divorce or child support case?
All 50 states have adopted child support guidelines. Some states use tables that indicate a support amount for different ranges of income, similar to tax tables. Although some states base support on the payor's income, many states use an income shares model, including Florida, which is based on the income of both parents. Usually, the parent without the child the majority of the time will pay support, but if both parents share time with the child equally, the parent with the greater income usually pays support. The support may be reduced based upon the amount of time the payor spends with the child.
Q: What happens if a parent does not pay court-ordered child support?
In 1994, 5.4 million women with children were due child support (far below the number eligible for such orders). However, of the 5.4 million, only slightly more than half received the full amount, while a quarter received partial payment and a quarter received nothing at all. Various enforcement mechanisms exist against these so-called "dead-beat parents," including automatic withholding of the obligor’s income. The court has the power to hold a party in contempt for violating a court order. The contemnor must be allowed an opportunity to "purge" the contempt, meaning to comply with the order. If the contemnor does not purge the contempt and has the ability to pay, the court has the power of incarceration, although usually for a limited amount of time, such as six months per contempt citation. In addition, many states have criminal penalties for failing to pay child support.
Q: Do grandparents have visitation rights to their children?
Traditionally, the common law denied grandparents visitation with a child over a parent's objections. But since 1965, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation enabling grandparents to petition the courts for visitation rights with grandchildren. The laws do not make granting of visitation rights automatic—they merely give grandparents the right to ask for a visitation order. Many states permit only grandparents to petition for visitation, but some have extended the right to other relatives, such as great-grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings, stepparents, and even non-relatives with whom the child has a close relationship. In these and other areas, state law governs.
Source: Section of Family Law American Bar Association, FAQs about Family Law
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