Latest News – Ayo and Iken
A New Political Action Committee Emerges to Push for Alimony Reform
By Robert Napper Ayo & Iken Legal Correspondent
The death of an alimony reform bill this past legislative session seemed like a blow to hopes for changes to the law, but there is a new political action committee that recently held its first statewide meeting in the Tampa Bay area that says the bill’s demise is a good thing and the movement for change has never been stronger. It may take some time however as the newly established all-volunteer Florida Family Law Reform Political Action Committee Inc. readily admits that they believe they do not have a friend in the governor’s mansion who will sign meaningful alimony reform legislation. So the plan is to forgo trying to undertake seeking a sponsor for a new bill for the 2018 legislative session and instead embark on a fundraising and lobbying blitz for next year with an eye toward filing a new bill in 2019 after Gov. Rick Scott leaves office due to term limits.
On July 29, the PAC held its first statewide conference in Oldsmar, Fla. to talk alimony reform and hear from political leaders who have expressed support for their cause, including Florida District 16 Sen. Jack Latvala, who is giving up his seat due to term limits, and many believe will announce a run for governor; and Ed Hooper, a former Florida legislator, who Latvala has endorsed to be the successor to his seat. The meeting kicked off with an introduction of the PAC’s mission by CEO Terrance Power, whose story of financial loss and years of frustration garnered the 2013 Tampa Bay Times headline, “The Divorce from Hell, the Battle for Alimony and Emptied Pockets”. That same year was also a frustrating one for alimony reform in the legislature, Power told the crowd as he went through the history of alimony reform efforts that have either died through legislative dysfunction or twice by Scott’s veto. Power said 2013 looked like a banner year for alimony reform. The legislature presented Scott with a bill many in the alimony reform movement thought to be solid, including setting guidelines for judges to determine alimony based on the length of a marriage and a person’s income and the doing away with permanent alimony. Scott vetoed it, however, saying he did so due to a retroactive section of the bill that would allow for cases prior to the bill’s passage being eligible for modifications. “That was not a good night for us,” Power said. The frustration continued as bills in ensuing years that appeared to be a lock also met death. In 2015, a bill that breezed through both the House and Senate never saw a final vote as the session melted down and ended over a dispute concerning healthcare. A year later another bill actually made it to the governor’s desk that even had the blessing of a former powerful opponent, the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, but an addition to the bill during the committee process doomed it in Gov. Scott’s eyes by lumping in 50/50 child time-sharing issues with the alimony reform bill. He went on to veto it.
This year another alimony reform bill the Family Law Section and other organizations thought would find its way through the legislature never even got a committee hearing as many in the reform movement believed it to be so watered down it would not bring sufficient needed change. “We just took it off the table,” Power said of behind-the-scene efforts. The game plan for the PAC now is to harken back the bill filed in 2013, SB 718, to use as a template to file a bill in 2019 that will address the issue once and for all in a meaningful way, Power told the crowd. “We just need a new occupant in the governor’s mansion,” he said. Power went through a list of proposed changes the PAC would support not the least of which being ending permanent alimony and establishing guidelines for judges, and suggested members take a refresher read of the 2013 bill which is posted on the PAC’s website www.floridafamilylawreformpac.org under its articles/links section. Latvala also addressed the group and while not officially announcing he will run for governor, his short speech sounded like that is the direction he is headed, saying any opponent he may face are seeking the governor’s mansion as a stepping stone to higher office such as the U.S. Senate. But he promised being governor would be his “last stop” in politics. The senator professed to be a supporter of alimony reform and assured the room he would remain so, saying he is a promise keeper. “I do keep my word,” he said. Latvala called it “sad” that the alimony reform issue in Florida has not been settled yet and advised the PAC to steer clear of cluttering up future bills, such as the inclusion of child time-sharing issues. “Don’t make it a Christmas tree,” he said. Florida Senate District 16 candidate Ed Hooper also spoke and said, if elected, he would be a supporter of alimony reform. He said it’s unfair that many alimony recipients get “bite after bite at the apple.” Hooper said “times have changed” and Florida law has remained archaic in dealing with alimony. “I will not stop helping any way I can,” he said.
Attorney Richard Mockler, gave a speech calling for alimony reform, saying the current system is one of the most “inefficient he has seen.” Mockler decried Florida’s alimony system as the only entity that does not put the burden of proof on the recipient of funds to show the need for continued receiving of money, as is done with unemployment and disability. Instead, he said, it is the payers of alimony who must do the proving at great financial cost against long odds in order to get a modification. “I find it to be a very strange world,” he said of the current alimony system. Mockler expressed his belief that opponents of alimony reform who say it will hurt women who are uneducated or unable to find work are wrong. Instead, he said, Florida’s system actually hurts women by discouraging them from seeking higher education or employment opportunities to better themselves if they have no incentive to do so because they continually receive alimony through extended or permanent judgments. “That’s not healthy,” he said. The PAC has already set a second conference in Boca Raton on Oct. 28.
As always, Ayo and Iken will continue to discuss alimony reform and any potential news on the issue. We will continue to feature opinions and thoughts from our large team of family law attorneys. Ayo and Iken has a dedicated writing staff and maintains a legal television information studio that represents our commitment to bring cutting edge legal information to the citizens of Florida.
Ayo and Iken Expanding in Pasco County
Ayo and Iken is proud to announce our expansion in the Pasco County area. We have begun preparations on our new office at 4807 US Hwy 19 and expect to move our client service department within the next few weeks. After that we will carefully plan to move our New Port Richey legal team in a way that minimizes inconvenience to our clients.
The New Port Richey office was our first location in what has become almost a state-wide law firm. We opened our office in 2005 at what is still our current location – just across the street from the West Pasco Government Center. Over the years our firm has grown. The number of cases and clients went up significantly. It became a constant challenge working out of the same space. Our attorneys and support team were very creative and made the best of the space we had.
The new Pasco County office will feature expanded meeting space for clients, trial preparation areas, improved file storage, and the potential for further expansion. We will be moving to a space that is over four times the size of our original space. Not only will the expanded space allow us to better serve our clients but it also will make us proud to see our firm name prominently displayed as the anchor tenant in the building !
Ayo and Iken Christmas Party – 2016
It is that time again. The legal team at Ayo and Iken gathered with each other and their families to celebrate the holidays. During this time we take a momentary break from the stress and sacrifices of helping our clients.
The firm gave various awards for dedicated service to clients and our community. Melinda Radebaugh received our Rising Star award, Allison Belcher received the Loyalty, Dedication, Team award, and Dionne Thompson received the Above and Beyond Award. Longtime team members Kristal Knox and Karen Trussell received awards recognizing their many years of service.
We had a great time, shared stories, and showed recognition to everyone at Ayo and Iken.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Ayo and Iken legal team !
Island of Palau Featured in Latest Ayo and Iken Case
Our Ayo & Iken Attorney Jennifer Schulte is in the news for her role in tirelessly representing the mother of a runaway teen. The case of 17-year-old Aage Jorgensen drew international headlines early this year and again this week in the Sun Sentinel newspaper.
Aage’s case grabbed interest internationally after authorities said his father, an attorney then practicing in South Florida, kicked Aage out of his car on a highway side during an argument. The father was eventually arrested on a charge of abandoning the then 16-year-old boy, but prosecutors declined to move forward. Aage later was found in March sleeping in a Vero Beach hotel stairwell and taken into custody. That same day the boy escaped from Florida Department of Children and Families custody and remained missing for months.
Aage’s tragic disappearance left his mother and Schulte’s client, Nestralda, suffering in anguish from her distant homeland of Palau, a group of islands in the North Pacific Ocean, southeast of the Philippines. Nestralda had not seen Aage since his father took him from Palau as an infant without her consent.
A tear-filled but short-live reunion with our client would, however, ensue as security found Aage in July on the campus of Daytona State College trying to get in a window, bringing police to arrest him on a burglary charge. This time Nestralda came to the United States and was allowed to see her son for the first time since he was a toddler. A tearful courtroom embrace marked the day.
“It was an incredibly emotional moment,” Attorney Schulte recalled.
A judge then released Aage to his mother and he agreed to go Palau to live with her. But in another gut-wrenching turn he again ran away during a layover in Denver, Colorado, forcing our client to return to her homeland with the terrible reality that her son had again disappeared. Attorney Jennifer Schulte will be continuing her work advocating for the mother, still residing on the island of Palau.
Court Extends Same Sex Parental Rights
Our New Port Richey Attorney Allison Belcher has won a major victory in the cutting edge legal area of same-sex marriage in Florida by securing parental rights for our client Kristen Ruckey. In an Oct. 11 order, Pasco County Circuit Judge Alicia Polk ruled that Ruckey is the legal parent of her two children, who were born of a legal same-sex marriage in 2010, in Connecticut. The case is a first in Florida and breaks legal ground as follows:
After Ruckey married her partner, they moved to Florida and had two children in 2010 and 2012 through a sperm donor, before the courts ruled same-sex marriage legal. This year a divorce action began and Ruckey’s partner took their two children, ages 6 and 4, and refused to give our client access to them or knowledge of their whereabouts. Ruckey’s partner then filed a motion saying our client had no right to the children because she is not the biological mother, is not on the birth certificate, and did not legally adopt the children.
Attorney Allison Belcher argued Ruckey has rights to the children just as any other parent would of a legal marriage. Judge Polk agreed and outlined how groundbreaking these issues are in the courts calling it a “very new area of law.”
Polk wrote the mother “argues that the children are not born of the marriage because she is the one that gave birth to the children and there is no way that she and the mother, Kristen, were able to conceive a child. This argument fails. There are several heterosexual couples that are unable to conceive for several different reasons.”
The judge then picks up on Attorney Belcher’s main thrust in arguing for Ruckey’s rights: “This is arguably the same as when one party of the marriage has an affair and becomes pregnant by the third party. Case law is very clear that even in those circumstances, the biological father does not have standing with regard to his biological child because the child was born of an intact marriage,” Polk wrote.
Next up will be a hearing during which our attorneys will be arguing an emergency motion filed by Attorney Belcher for Ruckey to at last see her children. We will keep you posted.
In this recap of a busy September for Ayo & Iken, we will take you through the many facets of what our attorneys have been up to from New Port Richey to Tampa and Orlando. Our attorneys handled a groundbreaking same-sex marriage case, a heartbreaking case of a child runaway, fought to protect an abused child, and taken on a case that has international implications. Our attorneys will also discuss future cases, some legal trends they are spotting, and offer a little advice in dealing with domestic violence injunctions. Allison Belcher will give an update on a same sex marriage case involving unique custody issues. Jennifer Schulte will weigh in on a case with international consequences. Beth Clause and Jeana Vogel will share a case that spans two continents . And Jason Ponder chimed in on a case that involves protecting the rights and safety of a child.
Are other attorneys will give a heads up on the latest legal trends.
Here’s an in-depth look at what our legal team has been up to: Read More
Ayo and Iken’s Dionne Thompson Going the Extra Mile
Our accounting manager Dionne Thompson has been put in “jail” to fight for a great cause. She is taking part in the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s “Lock-Up” drive and the firm of Ayo & Iken is stepping up to bail her out. It is going to take $3,500 to get her out of the clink and with the already numerous donations from us, we are going to get there.
Dionne is in high spirits as she sits in her cell knowing that all of our generous donations will be going to such a worthy cause. Thanks so much to our wonderful “jailbird” Dionne, as the MDA calls those that lend their time to help. Our firm is committed to getting Dionne out of jail for a great cause.
Please note below is the MDA’s mission statement. It is something we should all strive to help: MDA is leading the fight to free individuals — and the families who love them — from the harm of muscular dystrophy, ALS and related muscle-debilitating diseases that take away physical strength, independence and life. We use our collective strength to help kids and adults live longer and grow stronger by finding research breakthroughs across diseases, caring for individuals from day one and empowering families with services and support in hometowns across America.
“I believe the consequences of a minor violation, such as possession of marijuana, have far reaching consequences, a lot more than it did years ago and everyone has the potential to take away your job prospects, ruin your career, ruin your future,” he said. “And now it’s worse than ever because of the Internet any minor violation, anything, is now spread across the Internet you can’t escape it, and in the case of marijuana, it’s far over proportional to what the person actually did.”
Ayo and Iken Opens St. Petersburg Office
The Law Firm of Ayo and Iken has expanded once again. We are pleased to announce the opening of our St Petersburg office. The office will be located in downtown St. Petersuburg in the Plaza Tower. We have always felt our firm has underserved the South Pinellas area. We are also pleased to announce the addition to our firm of an attorney that has several decades of roots in the St. Petersburg area. Attorney Claudia Blackwell will be heading our efforts in this new office. Ms. Blackwell is well known to attorneys and judges in the PInellas courts. She also has deep ties to the community. We welcome Ms. Blackwell to our firm!
Ayo and Iken Attorney Retained for Controversial Criminal Case
Attorney Zonald Spinks and and team consisting of Jennifer Schulte, Bruce Pzepis, and Allison Belcher have been retained to defend a client on charges of leaving the scene of an accident with serious bodily injury, and DUI with serious bodily injury. The situation has been highlighted on the news in west central Florida for the last three months.
Ayo and Iken Attorney Defends Grandparents Rights
Ayo & Iken Orlando Attorney Jason Ponder is on the cutting legal edge in seeking child visitation rights for two grandparents based on a new law signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott in July.
Our clients have been cut off from communication with their 3-year-old granddaughter since the death of their daughter. The child’s father, fought an initial petition for visitation filed on behalf of our clients, but Attorney Ponder has since filed an amended petition based on the new law signed by Scott that is sure to be a groundbreaking legal battle in Florida.
Ponder’s petition argues that the father’s past cocaine conviction and a traffic citation of driving 105 mph in a 55 mph zone poses a “substantial threat to the minor child’s safety and welfare.” Ponder’s petition also notes that our clients granddaughter lived in their care until she was 2-years-old and the abrupt end to their visitation emotionally harmed the young child. It also states that the father, during that time, played no role in the child’s life. The amended petition leans on the new law’s parameters:
“A grandparent of the minor child whose parents are deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state, or whose one parent is deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state and whose other parent has been convicted of a felony or offense of violence evincing behavior that poses a substantial threat of harm to the minor child’s health or welfare, may petition the Court for court-ordered visitation with the grandchild.”
This case is likely to be one of the first tests of the new grandparents visitation law in Florida as the father’s attorney has not only filed for a denial of our amended petition, but for the court to also throw out the new law entirely as violating the Constitution. A hearing is set for Dec. 7.
For more information on this groundbreaking case contact Attorney Jason Ponder at 407-901-4507
Univision Interviews Alberto Ayo
Attorney Alberto Ayo gives his legal opinion on a particularly abusive situation regarding an undocumented immigrant. Celia has a work accident at a restaurant that caused burns all over her body. The owner becomes furious after she talks of the incident and in the process discloses she works at the restaurant. It turns out the worker is an illegal immigrant and was not being paid wages required under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Angry that Celia talked to others about her accident, the restaurant owner hits her and ends up in jail on battery charges. Mr. Ayo discusses obligations to compensate workers fairly – regardless of their immigration status.
Ayo and Iken Opens Miami Office
The Law Firm of Ayo and Iken is continuing expansion across the state. We are excited to announce the opening of our Miami office. The office will be located in historic Coral Gables. Attorney Jackie Roys will be leading our expansion into Miami. Ms. Roys is experienced in high end family law cases. She also was the primary homicide prosecutor for St. John’s, Putnam, and Flagler county. Ms. Roys will have the backing and resources of Ayo and Iken – a large team of dedicated legal professionals with offices throughout Florida.
Alimony Legislation Dead for 2015
In a surprise last minute twist, the proposed alimony bill is at an end for the 2015 legislative year. It was widely expected to go to the governor and be signed into law. The bill was one of the casualties of a legislative walkout over medicaid issues.
New Alimony Law Update
Attorney Howard Iken gives the latest update on the Florida proposed alimony bill.
2015 Family Law Board Certification Review
Approximately 1,100 of the top attorneys from around the state attended the board certification review course for two days in Orlando. The group included family law attorneys, accountants, and large numbers of circuit court judges and magistrates. The topics are at the advanced level and included cutting edge legal developments in divorce, paternity, custody, and trending financial topics. New laws were discussed as well as controversial appellate decisions across the state.
We were proud to bring the largest team of attorneys from any law firm in Florida. Our team brought their families for a weekend of dining, recreation, and advanced educational topics. The most important point was the ability to bring cutting edge developments to our legal practice. Our team of professionals greatly benefit but more importantly, our clients benefit from our devotion to high level training.
Attorney Kristal Knox could not attend because she is currently on maternity leave. Ayo and Iken fully support family values within our organization. Congratulations to Ms. Knox !
Interview of Attorney Ayo on Fox 13 News – Developing Situation
Fox 13 News Interviews Attorney Alberto Ayo on the developing domestic violence case involving Judge Eric Myers of Tampa. Mr. Ayo discusses the Petition for an Injunction Against Domestic Violence and how it took courage to file that case against such a powerful official of the court.
Ayo and Iken has entered the highly publicized case of domestic violence involving Tampa Criminal Court Judge Eric Myers. The judge’s spouse has filed for the issuance of a domestic violence injunction. Attorney Alberto Ayo filed a motion with the Court to move the case to Orange County Florida because of the judge’s extensive contacts in the Tampa Bay area.
* Update – The Florida Supreme Court has issued an order transferring the case and appointing a judge to hear the case. The case will proceed in Pinellas County, Florida. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga signed an order appointing the Honorable Jack Helinger in the Sixth Judicial Circuit, Pinellas County to hear the case.
“Till death do us part,” unless Facebook causes you to divorce first
ABC Action News interviews Attorney Howard Iken on how Facebook can cause divorce. A study by a law firm indicates 30% of divorces may have been started by the involvement of Facebook. Mr. Iken shares the experience of his firm, Ayo and Iken. He also discusses some of the reasons that Facebook may be to blame.
Howard Iken Nominated to 2015 SuperLawyers List
Attorney Howard Iken has been nominated to the 2015 list of legal rising stars in Florida by SuperLawyers. While up to 5 percent of the lawyers in a state are named to Super Lawyers, no more than 2.5 percent are named to Rising Stars. All attorneys first go through the Super Lawyers selection process. Those who are not selected to the Super Lawyers list, but meet either one of the Rising Stars eligibility requirements, then go through the Rising Stars selection process.
Appellate Victory – 2nd District Court of Appeal
The attorneys at Ayo and Iken have recently prevailed in an appeal of a trial court order entered at the end of a two day trial. The court entered an order that we considered to be unfair, and inconsistent with the applicable legal standards. Attorney Kristal Knox worked with the client to appeal the order. An appeal consists of a detailed 20 to 30 page analysis of the trial court order as compared to previous legal decisions. The analysis is called an Appellate Brief and represents one of the most difficult parts of our work. But when trial courts make the wrong decision a successful appeal can give the client a way to reverse that decision. A successful appeal also established guidelines for the courts when facing a similar issue. Ayo and Iken is proud to have a part in defining the law in the 2nd District – an area covering 14 counties in Florida.
On The Cutting Edge of Same Sex Divorce
Partner Alberto Ayo is interviewed by ABC Action News. Ayo and Iken has filed the first same sex divorce after the Florida constitutional ban on divorce was declared invalid as of midnight, January 5th. Mr. Ayo discusses how there is a huge pent up demand for same sex divorce and the attorneys at Ayo and Iken are busy responding to that demand.
In a broadcast interview, Attorney Howard Iken discusses what is rapidly becoming known as Divorce Day – the beginning of the year. Attorneys are beginning to see January 2nd as the start of divorce season, also the busiest time of the year for family law attorneys. Mr. Iken talks about the most common reasons for divorce, the costs that many clients will face, and the fact that January 2nd is becoming synonymous with the Black Friday of Divorce.
Impending Legalization of Same Sex Divorce
Attorney Howard Iken analyzes the current legal situation regarding same sex divorce. Mr. Iken predicts that most, if not all counties in Florida will begin to issue marriage licenses on January 6th, 2015. He also notes that as a side effect, same sex divorce can validly be filed in Florida courts on the same date.
Alimony Reform Movement at Standstill for 2014
Ayo and Iken attorneys discuss the Florida alimony reform effort in Florida and the fact that it failed for the year. The new proposed law made it through all the legislative committees, was refined and modified along the way, and was presented to Governor Scott. Attorney Jennifer Schulte believes that despite the failure of the new bill, the effort behind the reform effort has caused a trickle effect in the Florida courts.
Attorney Howard Iken Interviews George Zimmerman
George Zimmerman has a discussion with his Divorce Attorney – Howard Iken. Mr. Zimmerman talks about who he really is, his aspirations, and some details about his past. In particular, Mr. Zimmerman talks about his efforts and involvement with the minority community in his Florida hometown. He also talks about what life is like right now given the recent events.
New Proposed Bill May Radically Change Alimony
Fox News interviews Attorney Howard Iken about the new proposed alimony reform bill that was recently introduced in the Florida legislature. Mr. Iken acknowledges the proposed bill will severely affect some people in alimony cases, but also states the law may address some existing unfairness in alimony law.
Ayo and Iken Expands into Sarasota
Ayo and Iken opened a new office in the Sarasota area, part of a continuing expansion throughout Florida. The office is just off I-75 and is next door to the new, upscale regional mall, The Mall at University Town Center. The general area is known as Lakewood Ranch and consists of a moderate to high income population. Because the areas law firms are concentrated in the older downtown Sarasota area, Ayo and Iken intends to cater to the newer, more affluent population of Lakewood Ranch and surrounding areas. The expansion brings the number of Florida counties serviced by Ayo and Iken to fifteen.
DCF Rules Against Custody in Nudist Park
A DCF contractor has prohibited foster child placements with anyone that resides in a nudist community. Fox News interviews Attorney Howard Iken for his opinion on the situation. Mr. Iken does not know of any statute that prohibits the placement of children with nudist colony residents. But Attorney Iken acknowledges that courts place great weight on the opinion of case workers and their personal prejudices.
Valentines Day and the Rise in Divorce Cases
ABC Action News interviews Attorney Howard Iken about Valentines Day and what it means to the numbers of divorce filings in Florida. Attorney Iken shares statistics of cases filed by Ayo and Iken.