The Judy-Ann Smith Law Firm recognizes that situations involving family law can be emotionally and personally challenging. Many times, individuals are not given the personal attention they require to resolve an issue without feeling as though they are just another number. Attorney Judy-Ann Smith is understanding and compassionate, her belief is in creating situations that promote peace and cooperation. While she seeks to create mutually beneficial solutions for all parties, she is also an assertive advocate for her clients. She works hard to make you feel confident and comfortable during this difficult time and will treat you with the dignity and the respect you deserve.
Her belief is that there needs to be open communication between all parties involved, especially the lawyer and client and by working together to look at all sides of your case and consider every possible solution. She will do everything she can to get you exactly what you are entitled to under the law.
Family Law Services Offered:
Child support and modification:
Florida statute states “Each parent has a fundamental obligation to support his or her minor or legally dependent child.” When determining which parent will pay child support, the court will look at the net income for each parent, added together for a combined net income then a statutory guidelines schedule is applied to the combined net income to determine the minimum child support needed. When deciding on payments, courts typically consider all sources of income even if it is not taxed or reported under state and federal law. Some of these sources include:
- Tips, bonuses, and commissions
- Interest and dividends
- Unemployment compensation and disability benefits
- Social Security benefits and pensions
Discussing and reaching a resolution on custody of one or more minor children is one of the most emotionally challenging aspects of a divorce. If parents cannot come to an agreement on their own, meditation or counseling with an experienced child custody attorney may be required. The best interest of the child is the primary consideration when determining parental responsibility. The court will evaluate a number of factors to determine what is in the best interest of the child.
There are many reasons why a parent may wish to relocate, such as a better job opportunity or to be closer to other family members. Because of this, it is not uncommon for a parent to take legal action to relocate a child or children away from the other parent. Florida law requires either an agreement between the parents for relocation filed with the court or if unable to a reach an agreement then a petition must be filed with the court. The non-relocating parent then has the opportunity to contest the relocation. What constitutes relocation is a change of location that must be at least 50 miles from that residence, and for at least 60 consecutive days not including a temporary absence from the principal residence for purposes of vacation, education, or the provision of health care for the child.
Jacksonville Family Law FAQs
What is family law?
“Family law” broadly describes a wide range of legal issues that impact family relationships. Some of the most common include divorce, child custody and visitation (now known as timesharing), adoption, establishment of paternity, child support and spousal support.
Many of these issues arise in the context of a divorce case, but others are separate legal proceedings. And, some—such as child support and custody issues—may be determined in a divorce case or in another proceeding, such as a paternity case.
What does a Jacksonville family law attorney do?
Some family law attorneys offer a variety of services under the family law umbrella, while others focus on specific areas such as divorce and related issues or adoption. Regardless of the case type, a family law attorney can help to sort out the emotional from the legal and practical issues and work toward the best outcome for you and your family. Your attorney can also take charge of issues like deadlines, discovery obligations, formatting of filings, assembly of evidence, and other aspects of the case that are outside most people’s knowledge and experience.
At the Judy-Ann Smith Law Firm, we help people with issues such as:
- Petitioning for divorce or responding when served with divorce papers
- Establishing spousal maintenance where appropriate
- Negotiating or litigating for the best possible custody and visitation arrangement
- Establishing paternity of a child born to unmarried parents
- Establishing and enforcing child support obligations
- Negotiating or litigation division of debts and assets
We also help clients with legal issues that don’t fall strictly within the definition of family law, but are necessary to protect their families. These include preparation of wills and other estate planning documents and creation of special needs trusts.
Do I need a family law attorney if there are no contested issues?
Many people who are divorcing, establishing paternity, or making modifications to child support or custody and visitation orders and have reached an agreement ask whether they need an attorney. The question is understandable: if there is no conflict and you believe that you’ve agreed on every issue, it may seem that it would be easier and less expensive to proceed on your own. But, that can be a serious mistake. While you’re not legally required to have an attorney represent you in any of these proceedings, it is typically in your best interest to work with a Jacksonville family law attorney you trust.
It’s easy for people who aren’t familiar with the legal system to overlook important points or make procedural mistakes that can have serious consequences. When you work with an experienced family attorney, your lawyer will walk you through all of the relevant issues to ensure that you truly are on the same page and that you haven’t left anything unaddressed. Your attorney will also take charge of the procedural and technical requirements, freeing you to focus on the issues affecting your family.
How do I find the best family law attorney in Jacksonville, Florida?
Many people search online for phrases like “best divorce lawyer in Jacksonville” or “best Florida child support attorney,” but finding the right lawyer for you isn’t quite that simple. “Best” is a subjective term, and every case and client is different. To find the best family law attorney for you, you’ll have to consider multiple factors.
Of course, knowledge and experience are critical. But, family law issues are very personal and can often be stressful and emotional. It’s important that you are comfortable talking openly with your family law attorney, and that your attorney listens and considers what matters most to you. Attorney Judy-Ann Smith has dedicated her career to helping people care for and protect themselves and their families and will take the time to hear your concerns and tailor her representation to your needs.
How is Florida child support determined?
The basic Florida child support formula bases support on the incomes of each parent and the number of children. In its simplest form, the process involves adding the two parents’ incomes together and using a table to determine the total amount of support. Then, each parent is deemed responsible for support in proportion to his or her income.
However, the determination is actually more complicated than the basic formula suggests. Health insurance and child care costs factor into the determination, as does the amount of time each parent spends providing direct care to the child. The default is for the court to order support based on the outcome of the Florida child support worksheet, but under certain circumstances one parent or the other may file a motion to deviate from the guidelines.
An experienced Jacksonville family law attorney can be your best source of information about what you can expect to pay or to receive in child support, and whether you may have special circumstances that would warrant deviation from the guidelines.
Does Florida favor mothers or fathers in custody cases?
In a custody case involving parents who were married when the child was born, Florida law doesn’t favor either parent. The factors a court considers in determining custody are gender-neutral, and the analysis is crafted to serve the best interests of the children. When possible, Florida courts tend to favor shared parenting.
However, when a child is born to unmarried parents, Florida law makes the mother the default guardian of the child. The biological father of a child born out of wedlock has no legal rights unless and until his paternity is legally established. Putting the father’s name on the child’s birth certificate is not sufficient to legally establish paternity—that requires a court order.
How is custody determined in Florida?
Ideally, two parents who are divorcing or who have a child together and never marry or share a home will work together to create a shared parenting plan that works for the whole family and meets with court approval. When the parents can’t reach an agreement or the court finds that their agreement is not in the best interests of the children, the court may consider a long list of factors. Some of the key factors include:
- The ability and willingness of each parent to cooperate and communicate with the other parent, and to foster a positive relationship between the children and the other parent
- Continuity of community, school, family relationships and other established aspects of the child’s life
- Each parent’s demonstrated knowledge and involvement in areas of the child’s life such as school, medical care, friends and activities
- The reasonable preferences of a child if the court determines that the child has the appropriate understanding and capacity to meaningfully express such a preference
- The capability and willingness of each parent to recognize, prioritize, and act on the child’s needs
- The involvement of each parent in caretaking tasks before the separation
Of course, the court will also consider health and safety issues such as an history of physical or sexual abuse, neglect, unsafe living conditions, or use of controlled substances in the home. And, the court may in its discretion consider any other factor it deems relevant to determining the best interests of the children.
What if something changes after the divorce is final?
The divorce decree is often called the “final order” in a divorce case, and some aspects of that order are set in stone except in limited, extraordinary circumstances. For example, division of property and assignment of responsibility for debts are generally not subject to modification.
But, there are some aspects of the divorce decree that may require modification over time. The same is true for a custody or child support order entered in a paternity case. Florida law balances this reality with the need for consistency and stability by setting a high bar for modification. To successfully petition for a change in custody, for instance, the filing parent must show a “substantial, material, and unforeseeable” change in circumstances. The standard is somewhat subjective, leaving courts with significant discretion to determine whether a modification is warranted.
Similarly, child support may be modified if there has been a “substantial change in circumstances.” When the change is purely financial—for instance, when one party’s income has changed—the threshold for modification is a change of at least the greater of 15% or $50.
What happens if the other person violates a family court order?
Divorce decrees and other family court orders address critical issues such as time with your children and access to support you need to keep your household running. Unfortunately, not everyone takes those orders seriously and follows the rules. If your former spouse fails to pay child support, doesn’t produce property he or she has been ordered to turn over to you, or interferes with your court-ordered time with your children, you can go back to court to enforce those orders.
Someone who willfully violates a court order can be held in contempt of court. A contempt citation can have serious consequences, which the court can use to compel the other person to follow the order and to punish those who refuse to do so.