Divorce Strategies in Florida
Welcome to the Ayo & Iken legal roundtable. We tackle the toughest legal issues with down-to-earth commentary you can use from our expert panel of attorneys from Tampa Bay to Orlando.
In this edition, our attorneys weigh in with an initial look at some of the strategies they employ in obtaining the best possible outcome for their clients. Specifically, we hone in on child custody and time-sharing issues and the things our attorneys believe will lay the groundwork for success.
As you will see from the commentary, our attorneys believe complex divorce and child custody issues many times are not simply concluded by a shallow scratch of the surface. Each case needs careful examination and often soul-searching by the client to discover what they want for their children and their future during one of the most difficult times in their lives.
We talked about these issues with our New Port Richey Attorneys Bruce Przepis and Allison Belcher; Orlando Attorneys Jason Ponder, Jennifer Schulte, and Beth Clause; Tampa Attorneys Alberto Ayo, Jeana Vogel, and Kristal Knox; St. Petersburg/Clearwater Attorney Claudia Blackwell, and Managing Partner Howard Iken. Here is what they had to say:
Are there strategies you employ when tackling a divorce case?
We all know the saying: Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Most situations are ended through negotiation. But negotiation begins with influence and power. Make sure you go into your case planning to win. Get your preparation down cold. Devote enough resources to intimidate the other side. Only then are you ready to conduct your case and negotiate a good outcome if you get an opportune situation.
I always tell my clients ‘this is your marriage, your children, your assets, and your debts’. You are the person that knows what you need to live. So when you go into settlement or mediation situations we are not going in looking for a fight. We are looking to find situations that work for this particular family. So I want my clients to avoid saying and doing things that are only going to irritate the other side. Sometimes I will have clients tell me they don’t necessarily like that because they say I am trying to work for the other side, but in my experience logically I want the other side also coming into the mediation with an open mind and not with unrealistic expectations which can result in spending days, months, or years fighting over all the disputed issues. I think the best thing any client can do is to be open minded.
You have to have some clear lines of what you are willing to settle for and what you would like to have. I tell my clients it is important they have a minimum bottom line that they are not willing to cross because the negotiations or any settlement entered into are very, very difficult to overturn. So generally, it is not a good idea to think, ‘well I will decide to settle for this now and change it down the road’. Yes, you can change things with modifications but it is a good idea to get things done without thinking that you can change it down the road.
Eighty percent of cases settle because it is so much better than having a judge make a final judgment for you. So it is important for a client to be prepared with what he or she wants. If you are prepared and have a positive attitude that each side has to bend, each side will be giving something up, you are much more likely to reach a settlement everyone can live with and remove the uncertainty of a judge decided an outcome for you.
What I generally do for my clients is to advise them that there are things that are important to you and those things may not be the same things that are important to the other individual. What you need to stress is in order to obtain the things that may be important to you it may be you need to give in areas that you may not necessarily have great concern about.
I always ask people to think about what their best day in court would be, and what their worst day in court would be. Then you can start to think about meeting somewhere in the middle. If we have a good solid agreement, that usually means both parties are not completely happy and that means we walked out with a very solid agreement. One of the strategies I think is to be sure you are documenting everything that is happening. You need a journal, you need to keep a calendar, and you need to keep your emails and texts. The most organized people are able to present the best case. I also think first and foremost you need to act in the best interest of the children.
Great point, Kristal. What kinds of strategies should the client engage in when it comes to cases involving child custody and time-sharing issues?
The most important thing is thinking deeply about what is best for the children. Who is the best person for the children to live with? What is the best thing for the child in terms of time-sharing? It is not about what is best for you or your spouse, but what is best for the children. I find sometimes people find it very difficult getting past dwelling on what is best for them and they lose focus on the children.
It is important that you promote a constructive relationship with the other parent and not talk negatively to the child about that other parent. It is also important that you also get rid of social media sites. Too many times people are posting things about their cases or their night out on the town drinking. That stuff can come out in a custody case and often hurt a parent’s situation with the courts. It is also important to make sure you are as stable as possible with your housing and work. And if you are looking for a substantial amount of time-sharing with a child, such as equal time-sharing, it is important that you live pretty close in proximity to the other parent.
Try to create an atmosphere of learning. It is important for the parent to get involved with their child’s education, to get involved with their homework, to talk school officials, and to meet the teacher. It is important to do the most basic things such as cook meals for the child. The overall point is to create a healthy parent-child relationship. If the child likes to play baseball it is a good idea to play baseball. I especially encourage helping the child with mathematics. I tell all my clients, ‘you show me someone who is successful in mathematics, I will you show you someone who will be successful in life’. You are trying to raise a productive adult so that is something you must always have in mind. After all, the child did not ask to come to this world. You the parent is responsible for the child’s arrival into this world, so you should be responsible for creating a productive and successful adult.
I try to make sure my clients put themselves in a position where they are there for the children. To make sure they are dropping their children off at school, picking them up, and doing their school work with them. I try to make it clear that if in the past they haven’t been the parent doing those sorts of things, that they start becoming very active in all of their child’s activities. I think those actions go a long way with judges.
I think the best situation is finding what is best for the child. So it is never my goal to sabotage the other side. I try to look at what is in the best interest of the child. I represent my clients to the best of my ability but I think the best outcome for everybody involved is always to have both parents in the child’s life.
Clients need to make sure they support their children in the proper fashion. Make sure they are civil and not threatening toward their spouse or significant other. They need to make sure they don’t use drugs or alcohol to excess. I think another important issue is when a time-sharing schedule is put into place by agreement of the parties or order of the court that a client abides by it. It is always interesting that someone will fight very aggressively for a particular time-sharing schedule and then does not exercise those rights, which can become an issue for a judge. So from a strategic standpoint, if you are given certain time with your children you should take that time.
You also have to make decisions with the other party. You have to make those parenting decisions together. If you are making the decisions on your own without input from the other side, that will be used against you in court because there are two parents that love the children. Even though you might be having a heated divorce you still have to co-parent and you still need to abide by the courts orders.
I agree. Co-parenting is a key to a happy family and success in a case. Even if it means being the bigger person, open communication and involving the other parent in the daily activities of the child, included informing the other parent of events that are happening in a child’s life, generally shows that you will continue that type of action and usually the court will look very kindly on a party that does so.
Strategy can be everything! It is rare to put together some of the most experienced minds in one place to discuss something of such importance. That wraps it up for today. Thanks to the Ayo and Iken legal team for pitching in today. Meanwhile we hope to see our readers come back to the Ayo and Iken roundtable. See you then !
Our specialized content, video, and other informative media are based on input from Ayo and Iken team members, outside guests, former team members of Ayo and Iken, independent journalists, and subject-matter authorities. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the official position of Ayo and Iken. Attorneys that are not current team members at Ayo and Iken may be reached through their member listing on the Florida Bar website: www.flabar.org