Ayo & Iken attorneys report back on what is new and what is old in April of 2023
Attorney Jeana Vogel
Ayo & Iken Wedding Package:
I recently administered wedding vows to a client and her new husband. That was fun and different in itself. But in this situation, the wedding ceremony was part of an overall case strategy that allow my client to achieve her dream: a successful marriage, and a successful step parent adoption of two boys by her husband (not the biological dad). I am currently in the process of finalizing the case and there is no greater joy for me than helping someone create their own new household and family.
Appearance is Everything
A pre-existing case came in where because of possible poor previous work the client was declared in default. When a client is in default there is already a determination that they lost their case and the only thing to work out would be the terms of their loss. It was an uphill battle but I found a rarely used old case that established the right to remove the default determination. The judge read the presented case law but appeared to be absolutely against giving us what we wanted. I disagreed and then started involving our Appellate Rights counsel, Mr. Jeremy Simons. I also made it obvious we were preparing for an appeal if the judge turned us down. I also filed a Motion to Recuse the judge because some statements were made that clearly indicated our client would not win. In Florida that is a definite reason to recuse the judge. The combination of our documents, legal argument, and the fact we had an in-house Appellate Attorney working on the case appeared to push the situation over the edge. I got what I thought was right for the client and we are now in front of a judge that is not starting with any bias against our client.
Gender – Societal Changes
I have a case recently completed where the minor child was originally a girl and now identifies as a boy. The child desired to take puberty blockers. We ended up settling and the gender issues never became highly contested. But as an aside I noticed one huge change that previously went unnoticed: All or most of the standardized forms for family law cases that were approved by the Florida Supreme Court have been recently modified. All references to “Father” or “Mother” have disappeared from the forms. Now the word “Parent” appears dozens or hundreds of times in all the documents. Very interesting!
Attorney Kevin Fuller
I have several cases where one adult or another is incarcerated. Nothing makes a case more difficult to move forward than one parent being in prison.
In one situation both parents are getting a divorce and are willing to cooperate and sign anything needed. But the hang-up is the fact that one parent is in Federal prison up north. When you have a person in prison you are dependent on prison officials for scheduling, video appearances, and coordination of notaries for signatures. I have been working with this case for months and it should have been completed already but I continue to struggle with prison personnel for cooperation.
As if one prison-related case was not enough, I have another where one party is now in prison for the second time. The charges are serious and will probably mean a long time stay in that prison. Again, it is not a difficult or unique case. But the procedures required by prisons make it difficult for attorneys to help their clients.
The Economy and Pandemic
The number of Zoom Video hearings have plummeted compared to a year ago. I am seeing a sharp ramp up in hearings that require in-person attendance. People are tighter on money due to the downturn in the economy and this is not a positive development for them. There is less discretionary money available. I also see many more do it yourselfers – that brings a rise in the numbers of clients that appear at our office with a flawed or mistaken situation that now need an attorney to straighten it out.
There is a trend for other attorneys to “churn” cases – the practice of extending the case, purposely stirring up client emotions that appear to be a desire to maximize the amount of money spent in each case. I see this as a growing trend and is happening on low end cases that otherwise should end relatively quicky. I believe this is a behind-the-scenes reaction by attorneys to the current economic conditions.
Attorney Michael McGinn
The Power of the State in Child Support Cases
I was retained for something called an Administrative law process. This is a type of case that bypasses the local courts and is almost entirely conducted by the state.
My client has low end wages as a service worker. He got a surprise child support order for almost every penny he takes home each month. That was not well received and it is a good thing he paid attention to the paperwork and sought legal help. The mom says said was paying over a few thousand a month for daycare and health insurance for a child and the numbers made no sense. Mom said she was unemployed but in reality was earning multiple times the amount the father was earning. There were red flags – she was paying the same person substantial amounts for daycare, and nighttime care, whether it was needed for work or not. Also, the Mom was getting free healthcare through Medicaid and was not paying a dime for health coverage.
Daycare contributions from the non-custodial parent are limited to what is needed to allow a parent to work, not what is needed for convenience. I argued that point and the judge agreed. I also “blew up” the fact that mom was currently employed and was getting free healthcare. The outcome was extremely favorable compared to what could have happened. Some people get caught up in an unjustified child support order through ignoring mail, and they sometimes enter a cycle of driver license suspensions and short-term jail sentences. I feel I made a big difference for that client.
Attorney Howard Iken
Everything Should Have a Plan
We frequently help clients that need a coordinated legal strategy consisting of a divorce case and a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy filing. The two procedures, if not coordinated correctly can affect each other in ways that are not beneficial to the client. I worked on a recent cooperative project with Attorney Crystal Phillips. Ms. Phillips handled the Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce) and I worked with her to ensure the settlement terms of the divorce were compatible with, and beneficial to a subsequent Chapter 7 Bankruptcy filing. Ms. Phillips treated the case as an uncontested divorce with a negotiated Marital Settlement Agreement. The problem with Marital Settlement Agreements filed just before a bankruptcy case is the possibility of the US Bankruptcy Trustee’s Office viewing the transaction of a way to “fool” or circumvent soon-to-be-unpaid creditors.
Ms. Phillips did a great job helping the client from beginning to end. I was able to take her initial draft of the Marital Settlement Agreement and modify or add language that minimized later risks. These steps cannot be done with cases already completed so it was very important to work cooperatively through the entire process. The end result was a smooth divorce and an even more smooth bankruptcy filing. It is always fun and gratifying to think out of the box and create problem solving solutions for clients.
Things have changed. Clients now do not want to meet in person. Significant sums of money and consequential procedures happen without never a meeting ever happening. None of them want an in-person meeting or video conferences. All of them have seen a photo of us and that is all they need.
Courts are more open to low level, routine hearings on zoom. The advantage is there is no charge for zoom wait time as opposed to waiting in the hallway outside a hearing.
The disadvantage is less opportunity to give advance materials to judge. Now everything needs to be more formalized, tabbed, indexed, more ahead of time but only for certain judges.