Sherrard Law Group

Ten Reasons to Mediate Your Divorce and/or Family Disputes

Mediation is a confidential process for resolving conflict and reaching an agreement. A neutral mediator assists parties in arriving at a mutually acceptable agreement. In contrast to an adversarial proceeding, mediation emphasizes cooperative problem solving and addressing the needs of all parties involved. Mediation can be used for all types of conflict; however, it is particularly useful in the context of divorce. Divorce is never easy, but with the help of a qualified mediator, like John Edgar Sherrard of the Sherrard Law Group, there is a high likelihood that you will settle your divorce issues amicably. Let’s take a look at the top 10 reasons why you should mediate your divorce:

1) Mediation Lets You Control the Outcome.

Why let a Judge decide what’s best for you or your children? Litigation leaves you in a position where attorneys and judges make the important long-lasting decisions that affect you and your family. A mediator isn’t a judge, and they cannot force you to do anything. One of the key reasons for choosing mediation is that you will have better control over the result of the dispute. Both parties can customize the terms of the agreement according to their needs and the parties are enabled to maintain control of their future and their children’s futures. The power over your divorce issues is now in your hands. This means that you (and your spouse) decide what to discuss and how you ultimately plan to settle your divorce. Don’t surrender your power of choice and the control over your future. A professional mediator, like John Sherrard of the Sherrard Law Group can help you design your own arrangements for the future that make the most sense for your situation.

2) Mediation Saves Money.

 Dragging a divorce through court can be very costly. Many families have ruined their finances due to the seemingly endless rounds of court hearings common in divorce proceedings. On the other hand, mediation is much more affordable.  Research shows that it is typically 50% less expensive to use the mediation process alongside a legal advisor, than using a legal advisor alone. Mediation usually occurs early in the divorce process, and many mediations are completed in one meeting. Divorce is already expensive enough as it is. You can reduce that cost significantly by choosing divorce mediation, and you can choose to mediate before filing for divorce to avoid contested litigation.

3) Mediation Saves Time.

 One major issue with taking your divorce to court is that it can lengthen the entire process unnecessarily. You may have to wait months as your respective lawyers coordinate their schedules with the presiding judge. Mediation significantly reduces that time. Often, all it takes is one productive session with a mediator to reach a resolution of the case. Not to mention, you can book your mediation appointment at a time and date that suits you.

4) Mediation is Fair and Impartial.

Mediators do not take sides. Mediators ensure that the session is fair and each party’s side is heard. Each party has an equal say in the Mediation process, and the parties, not the mediator, decide the terms of the settlement. There is no determination of winners or losers. There is simply an agreement that resolves all issues between the parties.

5) Mediation is Confidential.

A key issue with trying your divorce before a judge is the lack of confidentiality. When taking your case to trial before the Court, you will have to testify in front of judges, court employees, family members, witnesses, officers and observers. With mediation, everything said and done in the mediation session is completely confidential and without prejudice. All meetings are private, no matter where they are held, and they provide peace of mind for divorcing couples as they attempt to resolve their dispute. If all issues are resolved in mediation and litigation becomes necessary, the details of the mediation session cannot be presented in the courtroom. Litigation is public; mediation keeps your personal life private.

6) Mediation is Easier on Children.

Litigation is adversarial and creates “sides” to be taken, and divorce is rarely forgiving to the children caught between disputing spouses. Research indicates that prolonged parental conflict harms children. There is no need to place your family or children in a gladiator arena. Transition into a new phase of life should be as peacefully as possible by allowing a professional mediator to assist you in devising a long-term “parenting plan”, rather than having custody arrangements dictated by a court. You can demonstrate to your children that, even though Mom and Dad will be living separately, they will still be Mom and Dad who have resolved their differences amicably, and will both continue to take an active role in continuing to parent and protect them. You can shield your children from unnecessary trauma by choosing divorce mediation.

7) Mediation Improves Communication Between the Parties and Fosters Cooperation.

Mediation advocates better communication between parties by providing a neutral and confidential setting in which the parties can openly discuss their views on the underlying dispute. This is especially important in co-parenting situations where a couple must continue interacting with each other well after their divorce has been finalized. Mediating instead of litigating gives you the opportunity to build a positive future, instead of a negative one, as you move forward with your lives in different directions. By conserving financial resources, communicating and showing respect instead of fighting, taking control of your family’s future, making your own choices, and viewing your separation from the perspective of a team instead of as adversaries, parties can maintain their mental, emotional and physical health and move into the future in a positive way. Enhanced communication leads to mutually satisfactory resolutions.

8) Mediation is Voluntary.

Mediation is a voluntary process. You can choose to schedule a pre-suit mediation before any pleadings are filed. However, once the divorce case is filed, the court will require mediation. Nevertheless, whether court-ordered or scheduled on your own, mediation is voluntary. You are not required to reach an agreement and may terminate the mediation session at any time. If the session is terminated, you are not required to return to another mediation unless all parties agree.

9) Mediation Allows More Attention to be Focused on Your Needs and is Beneficial.

Many judges are understaffed and overworked and don’t have the time to sit down with a family to get to know them on a personal level. In most cases, judges communicate more so with lawyers than they do with the actual family. This isn’t their fault; it’s simply how the system works. Mediation, on the other hand, allows you to speak and be heard on a personal level. What you say can have a direct impact on how your divorce proceeds. All the while, your mediator will facilitate discussion and guide the process along. Mediation is always safe. You have nothing to lose by participating and everything to potentially gain. Mediation is a process and even if the mediation session does not result in a signed agreement, it have laid a foundation for settlement in the future and gives you a realistic picture of your case and your spouse’s case.

10) Mediation Works and Judges Appreciate It.

Mediation is a process for separated couples who need to work together to reach an agreement, but cannot do so without the assistance of a trained facilitator. Mediators are trained to facilitate communication and help clients focus on the issues they face. Mediators have resolved many seemingly “impossible” disputes. An independent survey showed about 80% of mediation cases settle and 96% of all respondents and 91% of all charging parties that were surveyed would use a mediator again. Furthermore, judges favor parties who attempt to mediate their claims before litigating them.

Whether you are the Respondent or the Charging Party, you should have a certified and skilled Mediator working with you throughout the mediation process. John Sherrard has been a Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Law Mediator for over thirteen years and has been Board Certified by Florida Bar Board of Legal Specialization and Education Family Law and Real Estate Law for more than 35 years. With his experience and knowledge, he is able to resolve most cases and draft an agreement that is signed by all mediating parties. That is why we invite you to contact the Sherrard Law Group today to speak to a member of our legal team and/or engage our services in setting a date for your mediation. We look forward to serving your needs in resolving your family law issues to your satisfaction.

What Types of Alimony Can a Florida Court Award?

At the Sherrard Law Group, we understand that navigating the rocky road of divorce is never enjoyable and rarely easy. In our last blog, a basic explanation was provided of factors a Florida court must consider when determining an award of alimony in a dissolution of marriage. Next, we will go over the different types of alimony a court may award and the requirements to obtain and keep the court ordered judgment.

  1. Temporary Alimony: Temporary alimony is awarded to one spouse during the pendency of a divorce. Temporary alimony is to last only from the point of separation until the entry of the final judgment of divorce. Typically, one spouse requests the court to enter a temporary alimony award at the time he or she files for divorce. Temporary alimony automatically ends when a court enters the final divorce order; at that time, the court may order another type of alimony be paid to the lower-earning spouse if warranted. Temporary alimony may be modified; however, it may not be waived.
  2. Bridge-the-Gap Alimony: The purpose of bridge-the-gap alimony is to help the lower-earning spouse transition from married life to single life. Bridge-the-Gap alimony is generally awarded to assist a lower-earning spouse with “legitimate, identifiable short-term needs.” These needs may include money needed to purchase bedroom and living room furniture, money to secure an apartment or house and set up utilities, and money to pay moving fees. An important factor to note is that Bridge-the-Gap alimony cannot be modified and is limited to a two-year duration. Finally, an award of Bridge-the-Gap alimony does not preclude the lower-earning spouse from claiming and receiving other types of alimony as well.
  3. Durational Alimony: Durational alimony is a newer form of alimony, often awarded when no other form of alimony is appropriate. It is usually awarded in short and moderate-term marriages. One key element of durational alimony is that it cannot last longer than the duration of the marriage. This means if a marriage only lasts six years, then the maximum award of durational alimony that the court could assign would be six years. The amount of durational alimony is modifiable with a showing of a substantial change in circumstances; however, the length of durational alimony may not be modified except under exceptional circumstances. Lastly, durational alimony is generally awarded when permanent periodic alimony is inappropriate.
  4. Rehabilitative Alimony: Rehabilitative alimony is meant to assist a spouse in establishing the capacity to become self-sufficient. This is usually done through either the redevelopment of previous skills or credentials, or the acquisition of education, training or work experience to develop necessary employment skills or licensing. Rehabilitative alimony allows the lower-earning ex-spouse to obtain job-related education or training to assist him or her in providing for his or her own needs. In order to receive an award of rehabilitative alimony, the lower-earning former spouse must provide the court with a “specific and defined rehabilitative plan” that explains how the lower-earning spouse expects to rehabilitate himself or herself. Rehabilitative alimony may be modified if there is a substantial change of circumstances, if a spouse fails to follow the plan, or if the plan has been fulfilled. Remarriage does not automatically terminate rehabilitative alimony, but it may be considered as a factor when deciding if it will affect the rehabilitative plan.
  5. Permanent Alimony : The majority of cases in which permanent alimony is awarded are long-term marriages. As previously noted, a long-term marriage is a marriage with a term of seventeen years or more. While more common after the dissolution of long marriages, permanent alimony should still only be considered when there is a need and “no other form of alimony is fair and reasonable under the circumstances.” Permanent alimony is intended for situations where a spouse is incapable of financially caring for himself or herself, and the financial need will last for the rest of his/her life. Thus, permanent alimony is designed to continue until a court enters an order terminating its payment. However, permanent alimony may be modified based upon substantial changes in circumstances. Lastly, permanent alimony terminates upon the death or remarriage of either spouse.

Remember, a skilled divorce attorney can make a monumental difference in the determination of whether alimony is awarded and the amount of that award.  That is why we invite you to contact the Sherrard Law Group for a consultation with one of our experienced divorce attorneys. In addition to assisting in understanding how alimony may affect you, we will provide you with the support you need to handle other issues that may arise as divorce proceedings develop. The qualified attorneys at the Sherrard Law Group will work diligently to help you receive a reasonable and fair divorce outcome. We look forward to serving as your trusted legal representatives during this difficult time.

What is Alimony, Will I Have to Pay, or am I Entitled to it?

At the Sherrard Law Group, we understand that navigating the rocky road of divorce is never enjoyable and rarely easy. Often, parties in a divorce come across legal terms they have never encountered before, leading to confusion and concern. The main questions our law firm receives in a dissolution of marriage case is – what is alimony, will I have to pay it, or am I entitled to it? In order to answer these questions, an understanding of alimony is needed.

When a married couple gets a divorce, the court may award “alimony” or spousal support to one of the spouses. Alimony is a court-ordered transfer of money between a higher-earning spouse to a lower-earning spouse during a period of separation, and possibly for a period of time after the party’s divorce is finalized. Contrary to popular belief, alimony isn’t only available to women; either spouse can request support. Both spouses can agree to an alimony award. However, when both spouses do not agree, alimony is then determined by the court.

 One of the first questions a court will consider is whether alimony is even appropriate in a given case. A court will only award alimony if it finds that there is (1) a financial need by the lower-earning spouse and (2) an ability to pay by the higher-earning spouse.  If the court finds that there is a legitimate need from the lower-earning spouse and an ability to pay by the higher-earning spouse, then the court must decide on the appropriate type and amount of alimony to award. The factors a court must consider when determining alimony include:

  • the standard of living established during the marriage;
  • the length of the marriage;
  • each spouse’s age and physical and emotional health;
  • both spouse’s financial resources, including the nonmarital and marital property, assets, and liabilities;
  • each spouse’s earning capacity, educational level, vocational skills, and employability and, if applicable, the time necessary for either party to acquire sufficient education or training to find employment;
  • both spouse’s contributions to the marriage, including homemaking, childcare, education, and career-building of the other spouse;
  • whether either spouse will have parental responsibilities to minor children;
  • tax consequences of alimony, if any, to both spouses;
  • all sources of income to both spouses, including income available through investments, and
  • any other factor the court deems necessary to create a fair alimony award

The length of a marriage is the period of time from the date of marriage to the date of filing a dissolution of marriage. The length of marriage for purposes of determining alimony is broken down into three categories. A short-term marriage, having a duration of less than seven years, a moderate-term marriage, having a duration of greater than seven years but less than seventeen years, and a long-term marriage, having a duration of seventeen years or greater.

When considering (e), each spouse’s earning capacity, the court may impute income to a spouse who is earning less than the spouse is capable of earning through their best efforts. To impute income means that the court will make a finding that the spouse is earning a certain amount of income for purposes of calculating the amount of alimony needed or to calculate the amount the paying spouse is able to pay, even though the spouse is unemployed or underemployed.

Remember, a skilled divorce attorney can make a monumental difference in the determination of whether alimony is awarded and the amount of that award.  That is why we invite you to contact the Sherrard Law Group for a consultation with one of our experienced divorce attorneys. In addition to assisting in understanding how alimony may affect you, we will provide you with the support you need to handle other issues that may arise as divorce proceedings develop. The qualified attorneys at the Sherrard Law Group will work diligently to help you receive a reasonable and fair divorce outcome. We look forward to serving as your trusted legal representatives during this difficult time.

Ten Basic Things You Ought To Know About Getting a Divorce in Florida

If you are thinking of getting a divorce, there are a few things you ought to know before consulting the Sherrard Law Group. Knowledge of the legal basics on divorce in Florida will save you time and money.

One: What is Required to File For Divorce?

One of the spouses must be a resident of Florida for at least six months before date of filing. Additionally, you must confirm that the marriage is irretrievably broken and cannot be resumed.

Two: The Process of Filing For Divorce

Your dissolution of marriage action starts when your divorce attorney files a “petition for dissolution of marriage” with the family division of the local circuit court. The documents will be served upon your spouse. If you and your spouse settle the terms of dividing property, responsibilities for your children, and debt, the divorce may be finalized without trial. Otherwise, you will proceed with production of documents, mediation and a trial will be held to resolve these matters.

Three: Marital Assets and Liabilities

Marital assets and liabilities are divided equitably in the event of a divorce, and generally on a 50/50 basis. However, non-marital assets are not subject to equitable distribution.

Four: Dividing Marital Property

The judge will bear in mind the economic circumstances of the spouses and their contributions towards the marriage. Assets are divided equally unless there are specific, reasonable grounds for unequal distribution, which is an extraordinary remedy.

Five: Alimony

When deciding whether to grant alimony, the courts will consider the standard of living during the marriage, the age and health condition of the spouses, and the duration of the marriage. The court must determine that one spouse has a financial need and the other has the financial ability to meet that need. If that is determined, the court must then decide the duration and amount of the spousal support.

Six: Parental Responsibility and Timesharing

Florida no longer refers to “custody” of children. Rather, the court decides upon the responsibility and timesharing schedules of each parent with their children.  If you and your former spouse cannot agree on these issues, the decision is left to the court. The judge will decide on parental responsibility and timesharing based on the best interests of the child.

Seven: Child Support

When determining child support, the court reviews the timesharing schedule, the incomes of both parents, child care and health costs and utilizes a Guideline to calculate child support. The judge will rule on an amount for child support based on the statutory guideline provisions.

Eight: Documents Required

For the court to divide your assets fairly and determine an amount for support, you are required to file a financial affidavit and present records of tax returns, bank statements, mortgage documents, an inventory of family and household possessions, and other documents necessary to support your request for equitable division, parental responsibility, spousal support and/or fees and cost of the divorce.

Nine: Marital Debts

Debts incurred by either party during the marriage will be divided equitably, and generally, equally. However, debts incurred before the marriage are not considered marital debts and will remain the debt of the party incurring it.

Ten: Taxes

The Court must consider the effect of taxes when ruling on equitable distribution of assets and debts. Also, a divorce will change your tax filing status. The recent federal tax legislation has dramatically changed the tax aspects of divorces going forward, so the services of a certified public accountant is always recommended to advise you of the tax effects of your divorce.

Remember, a skilled divorce attorney can make a monumental difference in the outcome of your divorce proceedings in Florida.  That is why we invite you to contact the Sherrard Law Group for a consultation with one of our experienced divorce attorneys. In addition to assisting in understanding how alimony may affect you, we will provide you with the support you need to handle other issues that may arise as divorce proceedings develop. The qualified attorneys at the Sherrard Law Group will work diligently to help you receive a reasonable and fair divorce outcome. We look forward to serving as your trusted legal representatives during this difficult time.

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