Top Questions For Parents Getting a Divorce With a Special Needs Child in Florida

Navigating a divorce with children can be difficult, even in the best of situations, but when you and your spouse are facing a divorce with a special needs child, your custody and time-sharing decisions will require a unique and multifaceted perspective and should be given careful consideration. Children with disabilities often have special circumstances that require additional consideration, not always addressed in most common child custody agreements. Working with your lawyer and your child’s medical advisors can help your child adjust to their new living situation.

Here are the top questions you should ask yourself if you are getting a divorce with a special needs child:

1. What Preparation Should I Make Before Meeting With My Attorney?

When preparing for your first meeting with your divorce attorney, gather as much information as possible so that you can present a realistic picture of the type of care your child needs. This should include both the time required to see to your child’s individual needs as well as any extra expenses.  These costs should include medication, therapy sessions or medical equipment, and special educational opportunities that your child needs to thrive. Document this information objectively and notate which parent needs to be present for any appointments. Also, gather any legal documents related to your child’s condition.

2. How Do I Know What My Child Will Need?

Once you know you’ll be faced with divorce and custody issues with a special needs child, consult with your child’s doctors. Determine what challenges your child will face and what type of living situation will be in their best interest. Although you know your child better than anyone else, your child’s doctors have likely worked with children in similar situations. Their experience and expert advice can help you anticipate challenges and give you the information you need to make informed decisions about your child’s future shared parental responsibility and time-sharing needs.

3. What Should I Tell My Divorce Attorney?

When contacting a divorce attorney for the first time, make sure to mention that you’re the parent of a special needs child. Present your divorce attorney with the information you’ve gathered above. Discuss the likelihood of your child being able to financially support him or herself in adulthood. Most child support arrangements are created with the assumption that the child will eventually be financially independent. However, if you feel that is not a realistic outcome for your child, your divorce attorney will need to pursue a different child support agreement.

4. How Should I Approach Child Custody?

Some child custody arrangements, such as shared parental responsibility and substantial time-sharing, may not be a good fit for children with disabilities. If you and your spouse are the parents of an autistic child, for example, then you know that transitions can be difficult for children on the autism spectrum. A custody arrangement that mandates frequent overnight stays at different locations may cause problems for an autistic child. Follow the advice of your child’s doctors and your divorce attorney.  Amicably communicate with your spouse, to achieve the best possible situation for your special needs child after the divorce.

If you getting a divorce with a special needs child and facing time-sharing issues, it is important to begin working early to give your child the best possible outcome after your divorce. Seek a knowledgeable and experienced Florida divorce attorney who will craft and negotiate a divorce and child custody agreement that advocates your child’s special needs with the utmost consideration. Cheshire Family Law has been serving West Palm Beach since 1988, helping to keep families and individuals whole during and after a divorce. Contact us today at 561-655-8844 for help with your upcoming divorce.

How to Get a Divorce

divorce decreeIf you have lived in the state of Florida for at least six months, you are within your rights to file for divorce even if your spouse doesn’t agree. If you believe that it’s not possible to repair the marriage or your spouse has been determined to be legally incompetent, you will file for Dissolution of Marriage (the legal term for Divorce) at the Circuit Court within the county in which you live.

The Florida Supreme Court made it possible for residents to represent themselves when getting a divorce. Usually, the county court’s websites contain the necessary documents for this action and instructions for properly completing these papers.  However, you may wish to consider hiring a divorce attorney if there are complex issues or child custody to consider.

What If I Cannot Afford a Divorce Attorney?

 If you believe that you do need a divorce attorney but you cannot afford one, you will not be appointed one by the court. In some cases, the court can order your spouse to pay your attorney’s fees and court costs in the event that you can demonstrate that your financial situation warrants it.   But for the most part, each party pays for their own attorney.

How Is My Spouse Served?

You must first file a Dissolution of Marriage with the Court.  Filing Fees vary by County.  Your spouse receives notice that you have filed for divorce from the Clerk of the Court. After you file the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, the Clerk will send your spouse a summons. The Sheriff or a process server will present your spouse with a copy of the Petition and all documents that have been filed in this matter along with the summons. Generally, this service costs around $40. Afterward, the sheriff or process server will file a Return of Service that will contain the date that the papers are served.

If your spouse decides to sign an Acceptance of Service with the Clerk, he or she will not need to be served. If your spouse lives in Florida, he or she will have 20 days to file a response after receiving the Petition.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Divorce?

After having the Dissolution of Marriage served upon your spouse, they will have 20 days to file an Answer to your Dissolution of Marriage.  If no Answer is submitted within those 20 days, , then the Court will enter the Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage. It can take four to six weeks to finalize a divorce if it is uncontested. When it is more difficult for both parties to come to an agreement or the divorce is contested, it may take months to complete the process.

If a Divorce is contested, not only does it take longer, but it also cost more.  Check out our blog post “10 Tips on How to Save Money on Attorneys Fees

A contested divorce may require several months if there are assets that must be appraised. The court may ask that experts offer their opinions concerning child custody. Both of these requirements can increase the time needed to get a divorce to six months or even a year.

How to Choose a Divorce Attorney

Choosing a divorce attorneyIf you and your spouse are separating, your main question may be “How do I choose a divorce attorney?” Going through a divorce can be overwhelming, but there are specific factors to consider that may safeguard you from hiring the wrong representative. Please read our list of how to evaluate a divorce attorney on these 8 points.

1. Inquire about fees.

When you consult with a divorce lawyer, discuss fees upfront so that you can focus on the litigation. Ask what the hourly rate is, when the fees are charged, what forms of payment are accepted, and whether or not the retainer is refundable.

2. Discuss the potential length of the litigation process.

Florida law can be tricky, and no attorney can predict the outcome of any case. However, a divorce specialist should be able to explain what may extend or shorten the length of the legal process.

3. Look into the lawyer’s history.

A qualified divorce attorney will have experience in handling various types of divorce cases. Your representative should know what to expect from the judges as well as the other attorneys involved in the proceedings.

4. Ask how knowledgeable the attorney is with family law.

Many quality divorce attorneys don’t have enough experience with the various aspects of family law. Your lawyer should be familiar with all family court guidelines and procedures in your area.

5. Talk about the lawyer’s objectives.

If an attorney advises you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, the result can be devastating. Ask a potential representative how he or she intends to keep your best interests in mind.

6. Seek references.

Client testimonials can give you insight into whether or not a lawyer will meet your expectations. Ask clients how effectively and judiciously the attorney negotiated their Florida law cases.

7. Check the attorney’s availability.

Before hiring any divorce lawyer, look into how quickly he or she responds to your phone calls or emails. An easily accessible attorney will return messages promptly and communicate intentions clearly.

8. Ensure that you are comfortable around the attorney.

Your lawyer should be on your side from start to finish. You should be treated respectfully and courteously, and the attorney should earn your trust by displaying confidence and competence.

Ultimately the answer to the question “How do I choose a divorce lawyer?” is to hire someone who understands the delicate nature of the situation. Your personal story should be handled with your needs and goals in mind.

You are welcome to ask a question on our website.


5 Most Common Questions about Divorce

Coping with DivorceNot a day goes by without at least one or more of these questions.  We hope this list will help you in your decision.

1) Is my spouse entitled to half of everything I own?

Generally speaking, yes. Most assets acquired during the marriage are considered marital property and are subject to equitable distribution.  Pre-marital assets are usually considered separate property and would not be entitled to the other spouse at the time of divorce. Also, an inheritance that is not co-mingled with marital funds, or real estate inherited that does not include the spouses name on the title, would normally be considered separate property and would not be entitled to the other spouse as well.

2)  How much alimony am I entitled to?

That depends on the Judge’s application of the law to the facts of your case.  There is a list of statutory factors in the law that a Judge must consider when determining the type, length of time, and amount of alimony that one spouse will be required to pay the other spouse.  Each case is different, depending on the facts of the marriage, including such things as length of marriage, disparity in income, age, health, and education of each spouse, as well as other factors. Not every case requires an automatic payment of alimony. A new alimony law was just passed, eliminating permanent alimony and any alimony in marriages less than 11 years.  I will discuss this further in an upcoming article.

3) How much time will the Judge give my former spouse with our children?

There is a list of factors, in Florida law, which the Judge uses to consider frequency and length of time-sharing in the case involving minor children.  The outcome of each case can vary, depending on the Judge’s discretion and factors of each case.  Under a new law that just passed, that is now being sent to the Governor of Florida for approval, children would automatically split their time equally with both parents.  There may be exceptions under certain circumstances.

4)  How much child support will I receive from my former spouse?

In the state of Florida, child support is based on mathematical calculations, set forth in the law, and includes such factors as the parents’ income, daycare costs, health insurance costs, and amount of time each parent will be spending separately with their minor children.  It also depends on how many minor children are in the family at the time of divorce.

5) How long will it take to complete my divorce?

That usually depends on whether the divorce is contested or uncontested.  An uncontested divorce can sometimes be completed, from start to finish, in as little as two to three months.  A contested divorce, where the parties are unable to agree on one or more issues of their case, can take one to two years to resolve.  The wise decision is for both spouses to compromise their claims and demands and enter into a written resolution with their spouse, thereby turning their divorce into an uncontested case.

If you think you and your ex-spouse can agree on the terms of your divorce, check out the Amicable Divorce solutions.  You might be surprised how easy they are.

Of course, you are always welcome to ask us a question on our website.  All inquiries are confidential.

10 Tips on How to Save Money on Attorneys Fees

A question that pops up quite often is “How Much Does it Cost for Attorney Services”  Quite honestly, the amount a divorce attorney gets paid has a lot to do with how prepared you are and if you are willing to work with your attorney or, if you want your attorney to do all the work.

Save money with an attorneyBy reviewing this list and following these tips, it is nearly certain that you can cut down on the time it takes to resolve your case, which will lead to less fees for which you will be responsible.

1. Start with the Right Attorney

The amount of money you spend on your divorce or family related litigation can be significantly minimized by choosing the right attorney. Do your research and choose someone experienced in the area of family law and who is attentive and interested in your situation. Attorney Eric Cheshire’s practice is exclusively in the area of Marital and Family law. He has successfully represented families in the area of Family Law for 25 years and upholds honest, Christian standards as he protects your rights while serving the best interest of the children.

2. Consolidate Questions for Telephone Communications

Many clients will call their attorney anytime a question comes up. While Attorney Cheshire is happy to take your calls as his schedule allows, many “quick questions” via phone, can lead to higher costs, because each communication is billed to you. Instead of phoning whenever a single question comes to mind, consider writing down any non‐emergency questions and call when you have several questions or comments at once. This will allow Attorney Cheshire to assist you with any questions or comments you may have in an efficient and timely manner, keeping your costs to a minimum. However, if an emergency, or time‐sensitive situation arises, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Cheshire at once, as he has provided you with his office and cell phone numbers.

3. Communicate via E-‐Mail

E-mail has several advantages over phone or letters. First, e‐mail is easier for the attorney to file and record, which assists Attorney Cheshire in efficiently answering your present and future questions. Second, Attorney Cheshire can be sure to have the answer by the time he responds, compared to a phone call where you may catch Attorney Cheshire when your file is not immediately available to him. Like telephone calls, try to save multiple questions and put them all into one e-mail, so he can answer all of your questions at once. Several questions or comments in one e-mail costs much less then several e-mails with one comment or question in each.

4. Respond to Inquiries in a Timely Manner

Attorney Cheshire will likely have questions for you throughout his work on your legal matter. Just as he will do for you, it is important that you respond to any requests as quickly as possible. Forcing Attorney Cheshire to make several attempts to get in touch with you will increases costs.

5. List of Assets and Liabilities

Make a list of all of your assets and liabilities that you and your spouse have accumulated during the marriage and before the marriage. Include financial account numbers and balances, and a detailed description of your assets. By providing this information at the beginning of your case, you will save future litigation expenses.

6. Gather and Organize Your Documents

Please gather and organize your documents as specified by Attorney Cheshire. These documents will usually pertain to Mandatory Disclosure of financial records, or a Request to Produce, if applicable. Group documents together and make sure all requests are complete. You don’t want to pay your lawyer to do things that you can do yourself. This will definitely save you money.

7. List for Custody/Time-‐Sharing Issues

If child custody or time-sharing is an issue, make a detailed list, at the beginning of your case, of the reasons why your minor children should primarily reside with you. This helps Attorney Cheshire to focus on the most important issues of your custody litigation, which will save you time and money.

8. Be Willing to Discuss Issues With your Spouse

If you and your spouse, or the other party involved, are on speaking terms, you may be able to agree on matters between yourselves and present these verbal agreements to your attorneys. This will save you from spending money on any unnecessary litigation between Attorney Cheshire and other attorneys, or other interested parties.

9. Consider Mediating

Prepare for mediation or collaborative practice sessions. Think about how you wish to prioritize the issues. Do you want to discuss parenting time or custody issues first? Are there emergent financial issues that must be addressed right away? Make time to develop your agenda and share it with Attorney Cheshire. If either of you needs to do some homework before the session, you will have a chance to plan for that. You are in a much better position, financially and other-‐ wise, if you can settle out of court. By doing so, you choose the outcome of your case, rather than leaving your future, and the future of your children, for the Court to decide.

10. Set Reasonable Objectives

You cannot expect to achieve unrealistic results. Get a fair assessment of your case in the beginning and understand that things can change as the case progresses. It is nearly certain that both parties will have to compromise a little (or a lot) to resolve the case. Realize that divorce and family law litigation are emotionally fueled processes. Think critically and reasonably about your intentions and goals for the outcome. By having reasonable and realistic goals, you are making your case easier and saving yourself money.

Lastly, show your attorney your appreciation by paying your bills timely as agreed. If Attorney Cheshire does not have to spend unnecessary time on your case attempting to collect payment, he can concentrate on what really matters… your case and the outcome.

Effects of Divorce on Children

child relocation after divorceFor a married couple with children, the impact of the divorce on children should be one of the biggest concerns when the question of a divorce is raised. Research shows that a child’s reaction to divorce is greatly shaped by a number of factors, including age, gender, family support, and the quality of the relationship between the parents prior to the divorce.

There is an age factor when it comes to children and divorce. Dealing with divorce is very different for young children versus adolescents.

Adolescents are more likely to respond to a divorce by striving for independence, and this can lead to problem behaviors with some adolescents. Additionally, many adolescents develop trust issues with one or both parents. Pre-adolescent and younger children tend to become more dependent on caregivers, which can be problematic in some custody situations. Younger children are also less likely to have realistic expectations, and many young children cling to a desire for the divorced parents to reunite.

Some researchers speculate that gender is a factor for children and divorce. Dealing with divorce often leaves children with one parent for a significant period of time. Children who spend a significant amount of time with the same-sex parent tend to have better emotional outcomes. However, it is important to note that the quality of the parent-child relationship is more important than the parent’s sex.

Support from family, friends, and the community can play a huge role in the impact of divorce on children. Children with a dependable non-parental support system tend to respond to the divorce with less anxiety and anger than children without a strong support system. This is especially true for young children. When children experience the emotional roller coaster that often accompanies a divorce, it helps to have a trusted adult nearby.

Parental conflict plays a tremendous role in the impact of divorce on children. In marriages that are filled with conflict and aggression, children of all ages actually tend to respond positively to divorce. In marriages with a low level of open conflict, children tend to have more trouble adapting to the divorce. Custody arrangements are very important in either situation.

Children are surprisingly resilient, but the importance of support and stability cannot be underestimated when parents are going through a divorce. With love and support, children can and will adjust to life after the divorce.

Checklist for getting a divorce in Florida

If you live in Florida and have decided to get a divorce, there’s something you should do before doing anything else: gather important paperwork. Nothing can slow down or complicate the process like waiting until much later. For example, gather your documents before telling your spouse about getting a divorce. Otherwise, he or she could end up with most of them, which will put you at a distinct disadvantage. Your divorce attorney will be able to request copies from your spouse’s lawyer, but that will cost extra time and money.

What Do I Need to Get a Divorce in Florida?

Financial Paperwork

Throughout your marriage, you and your spouse probably left a big paper trail of financial documents. Before getting a divorce, gather these things:

  • Statements from brokerage accounts
  • Bank statements
  • State and federal tax returns for you and your spouse
  • Homeowner’s, health, car and life insurance policies
  • Retirement account statements
  • Pay stubs, W-2 forms and 1099 forms for you and your spouse
  • Property leases
  • Credit card statements and loan documents, including paperwork related to mortgages and car loans
  • Paperwork related to your household budget

Personal Documents

Compile all of these documents before getting a divorce:

  • Your marriage license
  • Birth certificates for you, your spouse and your children
  • Employment contracts
  • Passports of children
  • Divorce records related to prior marriages
  • Divorce- and marriage-related contracts between you and your spouse, including prenuptial agreements, separation agreements and ante nuptial agreements.
  • Social security cards for you, your spouse and your children

Business Documents

If you or your spouse own a business, gather documents relating to that business prior to getting a divorce. Examples include:

  • Partnership agreements
  • Business tax returns from the local, state and federal level
  • Business balance sheets
  • Business insurance policies
  • Business contracts
  • Profit and loss statements
  • Minute books and corporate records
  • Shareholder agreements
  • Credit card statements and records related to the business

Documents Concerning Assets that You Own

If you’re wondering, “What do I need to get a divorce in Florida?” you should know that you will also need to gather documents that relate to assets that are owned by you and your spouse. They may include:

  • An itemized breakdown of items stored in safe deposit boxes
  • Documents related to land that you and your spouse own separately or jointly
  • Loan statements or titles for boats and motor vehicles that are owned separately or jointly
  • An itemized breakdown of valuable items that are owned separately or jointly

Getting a divorce is a difficult enough process with all the emotions behind it.  By having all of this paperwork in order, you will lay the groundwork for a smoother and less stressful divorce in Florida.