Monday, April 18, 2022

Florida Child Support Guidelines Worksheet

In Florida child support for divorcing couples is almost always mandatory, and is generally calculated before the judge signs the final order of dissolution of marriage. Sometimes when a couple has agreed upon an amount for child support, the court will approve that amount. But, unless the agreed upon amount is close to the amount which would be awarded in the child support guidelines, the judge is likely to reject it. Whether parents have agreed upon an amount or not, the child support calculation is necessary. 




 Pro se litigants and some document preparers struggle to prepare the child support guidelines worksheet as the form itself may seem daunting. For reasons way above my pay grade, the automated calculator on the Florida Supreme Court's site has been removed. I have located an unofficial calculator - https://floridachildsupportcalculator.com/calculator – which works almost as well. The unofficial version does not create the form like the Florida Supreme Court approved form did, however, the form itself is easy enough once you have the amount calculated. 

The first thing to realize is that there is no way to calculate child support until both parents' Florida Family Law Financial Affidavits are side by side. And, the parents need to have decided how many overnight visits the children will have with each parent. Then follow the steps on the form or plug the numbers into the calculator. 

 Besides each parents' net income (Line 27 on their financial affidavit); you also need to know: 
which parent is paying for the children's medical insurance, and uninsured medical bills, and how much; 
which parent is paying for the children's daycare or after school care and how much, if any; 
the children's number of overnights with each parent; 
*the parents' combined incomes associated with the number of children subject to this child support. 

 *You'll find this number in the Florida Statutes and also in the Florida Supreme Court approved form and the unofficial form. Use the table to find the number to start with. Go down the rows from the column heading at the top that says: Combined Monthly Available Income. Then once you find the column for the correct number of children, you've also found the starting amount for child support. The unofficial calculator finds that number for you, but its good for you to know how this actually works.

 If you are a pro se litigant and need help calculating your child support. Please contact us at 800-515-0496.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Equitable Distribution of Property means "fair" not necessarily "equal".

 


Finding reliable information online is a challenge. We hope this article helps. 

Florida legal document preparers may not advise consumers about their legal rights or obligations. However, we can provide information to help people make informed decisions. When a couple has decided there is no way to save the marriage, and divorce is on the horizon, many couples try to work things out between themselves.

Coming to an agreement about how to divide assets and debt can save couples thousands of dollars in attorney fees. Couples can reach agreements about dividing property either on their own or with the help of a mediator. Courts generally uphold such agreements as long as they are in writing and each spouse has had an opportunity to consult with an independent attorney. If a couple can't reach an agreement, a judge will decide.

It is helpful to know the basics of what each person may be entitled to or obligated to pay for. In general, marital assets and debt are equitably divided between the spouses. Marital property in Florida is anything acquired during the marriage with money earned while married. It does not matter whose name the asset is titled in. There are many unique rules that govern gifts, inheritances, retirement accounts, and family businesses.

Types of property that may need to be divided during a divorce include things like vehicles, household furnishing, electronics, real property, funds in bank accounts, investment accounts, and stocks. Some types of retirement accounts require divorcing couples to submit a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) to the court. A qualified domestic relations order applies to all retirement funds and accounts that fall under the rules of ERISA. Qualified retirement plans, 401(k)s, and 403(b)s all require a QDRO in a Florida divorce if the account is to be split or transferred between spouses.

Florida is an equitable distribution state.

Under an equitable distribution approach, your marital property will be divided equitably or fairly, but not necessarily equally. Often, equitable division doesn't result in a 50/50 split.

Florida judges consider several factors when dividing property, including:

  • each spouse's income and earning potential

  • the length of the couple's marriage

  • the number of minor children at home

  • whether one spouse made career sacrifices for the other spouse's education or job

  • each spouse's debts and assets

  • each spouse's overall physical and mental health, and

  • any other relevant factor.

After considering the above factors, a judge will make a property determination that meets the needs of both spouses and serves the best interests of the couple's children, if any.

How Is Property Divided?

As stated above, assets are usually divided equally; however, the judge can make an unequal division after considering all of the relevant circumstances, including the following:

  • the length of the marriage

  • each spouse's overall economic circumstances

  • the desirability of allowing the couple's minor children, or either spouse, to continue living in the marital home

  • each spouse's contributions, including improvement of marital or nonmarital assets and contributions to the marriage either as an income-earner or as a parent or homemaker

  • whether either spouse interrupted a career or education during the marriage or contributed to the other spouse's career or education

  • each spouse's debts and liabilities, and

  • whether either spouse intentionally wasted or destroyed marital assets either after the divorce petition or within the two years preceding it.

Another factor courts consider is the difficulty of dividing certain assets. For example, in most cases a judge would try to award a business started by one spouse during the marriage entirely to that spouse and award other property or money to the other spouse to make up for the marital interest in the business.

A court won't divide up a home and award each spouse part of it, but might order the couple to sell the marital home and divide the proceeds. If a marital home is the couple's only major asset, a judge might also order the couple to wait until some future date to sell the home and divide the proceeds, and award one spouse a temporary right to live in the home. This is a particularly common result when the couple has minor children still living in the home.


Thursday, July 15, 2021

Advice v Information

 



Sometimes it's hard for people to fully understand the differences between legal advice and legal information. Information is fact. Advice is telling someone what they should or should not do. Seems obvious enough.

However some general advice becomes not advice at all because it so general. For example, common knowledge advice. You should wear your seat belt while driving. Don't drink and drive. You should pay your income taxes on time. You should financially support your children. All of those statements are advice, and there are laws related to all of those statements, so does that mean those statements are “legal advice”, which is something that only a lawyer can give?

No, the very general nature of the advice, even though the subject is technically a legal matter, transforms these advisories into general advice.

But, it gets murky. I'm not an attorney. What if I said to a first time homeowner, you should apply for homestead exemption? Is that general advice? It's obvious to me, and common knowledge to me having lived in Florida most of my life and bought and sold more than one home. But what if the first time homeowner is not only a first timer, but also has recently moved to Florida? Is it legal advice?

Maybe. It might be better to send that person down to the county building to find out all about homestead exemption on his own.

I always identify myself to prospective customers as a legal document preparer. And, I then, explain that a legal document preparer can prepare legal documents, provide legal information, and explain procedure, but may not provide legal advice or representation. Although, most consumers say they understand, it still may not prevent them from asking legal questions which I cannot answer.

Legal document preparers may not select forms for their customers. But, many times the customer knows exactly what he wants to accomplish legally, but does not know the name of the form or process. For example, frequently an unwed father will call and tell me that the mother of his child will not allow him to see the child. Most of the time, the father is already paying child support. He is at the mercy of the mother's whims, and poor dad doesn't know why. So I tell him the name of the form.

The central form is called a Petition to Determine Paternity and Related Relief. And, I explain it in this way, “this is like a divorce but for parents who were never married and have a child together.” And I go on to explain that the purpose of the process is for him to receive a signed order from the court naming him as the legal father so that he will have just as much right to see the child as the mother. And this is exactly what happens, unless the mother proves that there was ongoing criminal activity in the household; child abuse or neglect; domestic violence in the parents' relationship; or some other reason that this father should not have paternal rights.

I am not an attorney, I am a Florida legal document preparer. I do not provide legal advice or representation.


Sunday, July 4, 2021

Preparing Legal Documents from Home

 

By now, during the pandemic, everyone who was inclined or able has made adjustments in their work life to work “remotely”. Now that the pandemic is really and truly winding down, some people are itching to get back to the office, others are more than content to continue working remotely from home.

I've been working from home since 2010, since I started my document preparation business and the Florida Association of Legal Document Preparers. The pandemic trend to work from home has not even been a blip on my personal work life radar. For me, nothing changed.

Preparing documents for consumers is an ideal work from home business. The only products are information and completed documents. Information can be provided to the customer either in a telephone call or an email. Completed documents can be sent via email.

Weigh it out. You know yourself better than anyone. Many people worked from home during the height of the pandemic for the first time. Some people loved it, others didn't.

You can also carve out a hybrid option for yourself. Work from home sometimes, and meet face to face with customers at other times. You may also discover that meeting with customers via video conferencing is the best of both worlds.

Experiment until you find what works best for you and your customers. Above all else, make sure that you enjoy your work, feel good by doing good.  

Here are some of the pros and cons of an at home document preparation business.

PROS

CONS

  • Solitude. There are only interruptions under your own control.

  • Autonomy. You can set my own schedule to be the most productive and come and go as you please. No one looking over your shoulder, no walk-ins.

  • Convenience. Working from home means there is no commute, and no need to go out to lunch everyday.

  • Minimal overhead. No need to lease office space or keep up with the expense of a professional wardrobe.

  • The lack of division between work and the rest of life may be a plus for some people. Rather than work/life balance, some people strive for work/life integration.

  • Isolation. The lack of in person human contact is stressful for some people.

  • Distractions at home may make it difficult to stay on task. Things like the lure of the TV; family wanting attention; and afternoon naps are top distractions.

  • It's more difficult to create rapport and trust with customers without seeing them face to face.

  • It can be more difficult to create credibility with customers if they know you work from home.

  • There may be very little division between work and the rest of life. Some people might find this exhausting.            

Sunday, June 6, 2021

I'm back!

 Hi everyone,

After nearly a six month hiatus, I'm back, The air and the internet seemed too full of noise. I had to back off for a while. I didn't want to add to the noise, and wasn't sure that my voice would be heard anyway. Maybe the world has calmed down some, as we trudge our way to normal. Maybe it's a normal that will never come. Could be -- this is it. 

And, if this is it. Fine by me. We'll manage just fine. Nothing is ever static - as it is - change being the only constant. 

I have gone through some personal troubles right along with the world spinning out. I'm better now. As we go forward I'll write here regularly, my take on social issues; pro se rights; the legal document industry; and the world as I see it. 

Thank you for reading, and please comment.


Ruth Tick

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Document Preparation Training Courses

 

People sometimes wonder about the legitimacy of the legal Document Preparation industry. Because document preparers are not licensed by the State of Florida in any way and there are no specific criteria to be a legal document preparer some people think that anyone can just decide to become a legal document preparer. Technically that's true, but there's a lot more to it then just proclaiming yourself to be a legal document preparer. 

The Florida Association of Legal Document Preparers - FALDP, has member document preparers who have years of experience working for attorneys and cumulatively have a wealth of background, experience, and knowledge they use to help consumers.  

Sometimes when a prospective member contacts us, one of their questions is whether the market is saturated with document preparers. They want to know whether it is a good idea for them to pursue a business as a legal document preparer, and whether the field is too crowded. My answer is always no, there is a lot of room for growth in our industry -- there are many many consumers who are underserved. 

 No one seems to keep detailed statistics about pro se litigants - who is pro se; the number of consumers who proceed pro se; their reasons; and their success rates. We have maintained a survey for pro se litigants on our website. And we've compiled some responses to the survey, that might shed some light on just these questions. For example in our survey we found that most of the responders were females aged 50 to 65 who found the survey online. The survey is on our website – www,faldp.org - and we have done little or nothing to promote the survey until recently. We found that of those responders 45% were college-educated with English as their native language. Almost 43% were involved in or dealing with a civil case and of those 60% were defendants. In other words, they were involved in a court case, not by choice, but to defend themselves.  

25% researched online before deciding to proceed pro se; and 16% consulted with an attorney before deciding to proceed pro se. Most striking, however, was that 35% of the survey responders stated that they were proceeding pro se because they could not afford an attorney. This underlines the pervasive Justice Gap, the difference between those who can and those who cannot afford an attorney. And the implication that for those who cannot afford an attorney, no justice is possible.  

We maintain our website in part to educate consumers about the types of issues that they may have encountered like family law, bankruptcy, and civil matters. We also maintain our website to support the legal Document Preparation Industry as a whole. 

In order to help our members in document preparers grow and expand their businesses, we offer online legal Document Preparation training courses. And, we have bundled are courses together into what we call our All Course Bundle which consists of 14 online legal Document Preparation training courses. Our courses are available to anyone, you don't need to be a member of our association or even a document preparer to take our courses. 


We have rolled back our price for our All Course Bundle in honor of the year 2021. The price for the 14 course bundle, the All Course Bundle, has been reduced to only $2,021, for a limited time, previously $2487.. This offer represents substantial savings compared to taking all of our courses one by one. [Savings of $1071.] Call – 800-515-0496; Email staff@faldp.org; Visit – www.FALDP.org

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

How Does the Judge Decide Child Support?


How does the judge decide child support?

The short answer is that the judge doesn't decide child support at all. Child support is per Florida Statute 61.30 Child support guidelines, and is based on a few bits of information and a mathematical formula applied to it. The information required is the same information required for the Family Law Financial Affidavits and Parenting Plan. Once both parties' financial affidavits and the parties' parenting plans are available the child support amount can be calculated.

The information required is:
Both parties' net income;
Which parent is paying for and amount paid for after school care or child care (if any);
Which parent is paying for the child or children's medical insurance and uninsured medical expenses; and
Number of overnight visits the children spend with each parent.

All of this information, except for the number of overnight visits, is taken from the parties' financial affidavits. The number of overnight visits is taken from the parenting plan.

Within the Florida Statutes and also on the form Child Support Guidelines Worksheet there is a table to find the amount of child support that both parents need to contribute based on the parents' combined incomes. The table has rows to find combined income amounts, and columns for the number of children. Once that amount is found, all the other information is applied.

Frequently, parents' incomes are not identical, and the number of overnight visits are not exactly half and half. So a percentage of child support is assigned to each parent, and the difference between the two amounts is paid to the parent earning the lesser amount or having the child with them the most. The Florida Supreme Court has a web form that automatically calculates the amounts. But, preparing the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet is not difficult, with a calculator and a little time.

Because of the information required to calculate child support, the financial affidavits and the parenting plan must be completed first.

Sometimes, especially in magistrate's court, the parties will be told to simply provide their last three pay stubs, and somehow, child support is calculated from that information alone. Beware this process, as it does not provide a full financial picture.

The court recognizes that although a child support order is a binding court order -- circumstances change over time. The basis for a modification of a child support order is the existence of substantial change that affects any of the parties.


"Substantial change" has many definitions. Specific definitions of substantial change are best found in case law. However, in general, substantial change for modification of child support is involuntary, unanticipated and permanent.