WHAT WE DO
With over thirty years of collective experience, the attorneys at Phillips Lanier, PLLC have a vast amount of knowledge and experience in handling complex family issues. As attorneys practicing in this very personal and delicate area of the law, we understand the sensitivity of our client’s situations, especially when children are involved. As a result, we focus on listening to our client's concerns and wishes, and we approach these issues with compassion and empathy. We pride ourselves on focusing on reaching an amicable solution and resolving issues in a cost-efficient and reasonable manner. We focus on handling the complex issues of family law as quickly as possible and with as little drama as possible. Due to the sensitive nature of family law issues, we make sure to keep our clients updated every step of the way. We include our clients in our case plan and strategy. We make sure that our clients are informed of their rights during such a difficult time, and we fight to make sure that our clients get what they want and deserve.
At Phillips Lanier, PLLC, we pride ourselves on providing our clients with prompt responses and personal service. We are not interested in engaging in costly litigation. We provide our clients with honest and straightforward legal advice in order to reach the best solution. We understand that family law issues are inherently stressful and having competent and accessible legal counsel is paramount to reducing an already taxing situation.
During the initial consultation, the client receives a package which includes a detailed list of items to be provided in the process along with literature and other information which may assist the client throughout the process. If you have any family law matters in which you may need legal counsel or advice, contact the offices of Phillips Lanier, PLLC.
Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements
Engaged couples often begin discussing the possibility of drafting and signing a prenuptial agreement prior to marriage. A prenuptial agreement, also known as an antenuptial agreement, is a contract signed between two parties who intend to get married. This contract defines their respective rights and obligations during the marriage. Prenuptial agreements can be used to attempt to avoid expensive and lengthy legal battles that can sometimes arise when parties get divorced, and they are vital in situations where one or both parties have significant assets, property, or business interests. Prenuptial agreements can address a variety of issues, such as alimony (spousal support) or division and distribution of property and other assets. If you and your significant other are considering signing a prenuptial agreement, it is important to understand what you are signing and what rights you have going into a marriage.
If you considered a prenuptial agreement prior to your marriage, but didn’t have enough time before the wedding, it is not too late. A postnuptial agreement is similar to a prenuptial agreement, with the exception that a postnuptial agreement is entered into after a couple gets married. Even if you and your spouse are happily married and do not anticipate getting divorced, postnuptial agreements are used to set forth the rights of parties during the marriage or in the event of death. A postnuptial agreement can also be created when a married couple anticipates divorce and wishes to amicably distribute their assets.
Whether you are contemplating marriage or are already married, Phillips Lanier is here to assist in the drafting or review of any prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. Our team will not only provide guidance and help you understand your rights but will also help you understand the long-term effects of your agreement.
Parent & Child Relocation
Sometimes, after a divorce or paternity agreement is entered into, one parent may need to or decide to move outside of the state of Florida. If you or your child’s other parent is considering relocating, it is important to know all of the factors, procedures, and requirements established by law, so that your rights or the welfare of your child are not placed in jeopardy.
Under Florida law, a parent may not permanently relocate with a child to a location that is more than 50 miles from his or her original principal residence unless either (1) the other parent consents in writing to the relocation or (2) the Court officially allows the relocation. A permanent move is one that lasts more than 60 days, thus a long vacation or short-term arrangement may not be considered a permanent relocation.
If the parents agree on a relocation, there must be written permission and a new timesharing arrangement and parenting plan must be created. If the parents cannot reach an agreement however, the parent wishing to relocate will need to file a Petition to Relocate with the court. In determining whether relocation is appropriate and in the best interests of the child. The Court may consider multiple factors, including, but not limited to:
The reason for seeking or opposing the relocation
Career opportunities for the parent with relocation
The age and developmental stage of the child
The nature of each parent’s involvement with the child
Whether the relocation will enhance the child’s life
After the consideration of these factors, the Court may either allow or deny the petition. If the petition is granted, the Court may also consider and adjust child support and transportation issues.
If you are currently in a child custody arrangement with a co-parent or former spouse and are considering relocation, or if you believe that a co-parent may request relocation in the near future, Phillips Lanier is here to help you understand and evaluate your relocation options.
Modification of Agreements
and Final Judgments
Family cases aren’t necessarily over once an agreement is signed and a final judgment entered. In many cases, there are events in a person’s life that require changing or modifying the terms—such as alimony, child support, or timesharing—of the agreement. In order to successfully modify your agreement or final judgment, you must show a “substantial change in circumstances.” An example of a substantial change in circumstances would be the loss of a job, a promotion, a serious health problem that prevents you or your former spouse or co-parent from working, a new marriage, or a move to another part of the state or country. If any of these changes in circumstances require a change in child support or timesharing, you will also have to show that the modification of the agreement or final judgment is in the best interest of the child.
There are many situations in which there is a “change in circumstances” that may require a modification of your previous agreement or judgment. At Phillips Lanier, our team has years of experience in representing multiple clients on both sides of a modification action, and we can help protect your rights and interests, whether you are asking for or opposing a modification of a previous agreement or judgment.
Formerly known as “custody,” timesharing issues almost always arise in family cases involving children. Some of the hardest issues to resolve in a divorce or paternity action usually involve visitation and timesharing, and parties often struggle to coordinate a schedule that is not only fair to them, but that is also in the best interest of the parties’ child or children. When resolving timesharing issues, the parties (or the Court if the parties cannot agree) must create a “parenting plan”, which determines parental responsibility, timesharing schedule arrangements, child health care and school-related issues, and other related matters. All parenting plans must be approved by the court, and they must meet the “best interests” of the child standard. In determining whether a timesharing schedule or parenting plan is in the child’s best interest, the Court looks at many factors, including but not limited to:
The ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required.
The division of parental responsibilities once the divorce or paternity action is finalized.
The capacity of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent.
The mental and physical health of the parents.
The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child able to express a preference.
The ability of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child.
The ability of each parent to communicate with and keep the other parent informed of issues and activities regarding the child.
When determining a timesharing schedule and parenting plan, both parents may find it to be advantageous to reach an agreement. Litigation can not only be costly, but it can leave many important decisions that affect you and your child’s life up to a judge. Sometimes, however, litigation is necessary to protect your rights and your child’s best interests. At Phillips Lanier, our team is experienced in not only negotiating and drafting timesharing schedules and parenting plans, but also in litigating timesharing and other related issues.
Domesticating Foreign Divorce
If you and your former spouse were divorced or had a paternity judgment entered outside of Florida, and one or both of you move to Florida, you may need a Florida Court to enforce or modify your divorce or paternity judgment down the road. In Florida, any divorce or paternity final judgment entered in another state or country is considered a “foreign” judgment. To have your foreign judgment recognized and enforced in Florida, you must first petition the court to “domesticate” it.
By domesticating a foreign judgment, Florida courts are giving the judgment “full faith and credit” under the U.S. and Florida Constitutions. If the judgment is from another country, the judgment must also meet the principles of equity and comity: it must be consistent with both Florida law and public policy. Once a judgment is domesticated, you or your former spouse or co-parent may then ask the Court to enforce or modify the judgment.
In order to domesticate your foreign judgment, you must first obtain a certified copy of the judgment. You or your attorney must then prepare a notarized affidavit and a petition to domesticate and enforce the divorce final judgment. The Petition to Domesticate a Foreign Judgment must set forth the terms you want to be enforced and/or modified. If the judgment is from another country and is written in another language other than English, you will also need a certified translation of the judgment. All documents are then filed with the clerk in the county where you or your ex-spouse resides. A filing fee is also required and may vary depending upon the county.
At Phillips Lanier, we have experience in domesticating foreign judgments from not only other states but also other countries. If you need legal advice to determine whether your foreign judgment can be domesticated, or if you need assistance in the process of domesticating, modifying or enforcing your foreign judgment, our firm can help provide you with the necessary information and guide you through the process.
Florida is a no-fault divorce state, which means that divorce can proceed without a focus on blaming either party for the dissolution of the marriage. In Florida, either spouse can file for divorce and must only show the marriage is “irretrievably broken.”
There are two “types” of divorce in Florida: simplified dissolution of marriage, or regular dissolution of marriage. A simplified dissolution process can be used when both spouses are in agreement that the marriage is irretrievably broken, there are no minor children, they agree on the division of all property and debt, and neither spouse is seeking alimony. Under the simplified process, the divorce process can be moved along fairly quickly. If you believe that you meet the requirements for a simplified dissolution, you may wish to consult with a local family law attorney to determine if it is the best option for you.
The regular dissolution process is most common. When there are contested issues in a divorce, or if children are involved, the parties must obtain a divorce through the regular dissolution of marriage process. The dissolution of marriage process can be highly emotional and traumatic for both parties, as well as their children. Spouses often do not know their legal rights and obligations. The main issues in a dissolution of marriage are including, but are not limited to, the division of assets and debts, awards of spousal support, awards of child support, and decisions on parental responsibility and/or time-sharing schedules. The parties, facts and circumstances in each case are unique, and as a result, outcomes can differ from case to case. Therefore, you may wish to consult us to better understand your rights throughout the process and determine the best option for you.
During and after a divorce, many people are concerned about being able to support themselves. Whether you were the one being supported, or you were the sole wage earner, there are concerns about being able to support and maintain your lifestyle in the future. In Florida, the award of alimony is based on a party’s need for alimony, and the other party’s ability to pay the same. Some of the factors that the Court may consider in determining the need for alimony are including, but not limited to, each party's ability to support themselves, each party's ability to pay the support, the length of the marriage, the services rendered in homemaking, and the standard of living in the marriage. There are several different types of alimony in Florida. To determine the best option for you, contact us to better understand your rights.
Child support is a legal duty of both parents. Usually, this legal obligation continues until a child reaches age 18, marries, is emancipated, joins the armed forces, or dies. The responsibility is based upon the needs of the child, the income of the parents, and the time-sharing arrangement between the parents. Florida provides straightforward statutory guidelines to calculate the amount of support a child needs based on the income of both parents. If child support has previously been ordered, a party can still move for a modification of the child support amount. For example, if a parent has relocated or has experienced a change in income, whether an increase or decrease, our attorneys can assist with filing child support modifications. In addition, if a parent is not paying court-ordered child support, we can help you take legal action to enforce the payments. We can file an action that allows the judge to collect overdue support and ensure that your child is getting the proper financial support.
One of the biggest contested issues in a divorce is the division of assets and liabilities. To begin discussing the division of assets and liabilities, we must first determine which assets and liabilities are marital. Marital assets and liabilities are those that are incurred at any point during the marriage. In Florida, the assets and liabilities are divided using a system called “equitable distribution”, which means that the assets and liabilities are to be distributed equally to each party. However, there are some instances where the assets and liabilities may be distributed unequally. Our attorneys can work with experienced financial experts who are able to assess the value of the marital property, as well as uncover any hidden assets. At Phillips Lanier, PLLC, we want to ensure that you not only get your rightful share of property, but also that the assets and liabilities are divided equally and fairly.
When physical or emotional abuse occurs within a relationship, this is known as domestic violence. Allegations of domestic violence are often mixed in with other family law issues. If you find yourself involved in an incident of domestic violence, our attorneys can petition for an injunction to protect you or your children against domestic violence, repeat violence, or sexual violence. Our attorneys can also assist in defending against an injunction of domestic violence that was entered against you. If you believe that you or your children are currently in danger as a result of the actions of your partner, you should contact a family law attorney to take legal action in order to protect you and your children.
Adoption & Termination of Parental Rights
In Florida, there are several ways a person can adopt. The easiest and simplest way to adopt a child is called a stepparent adoption. In order to adopt your step-child, you will need the consent of your spouse, and the consent of the biological parent. If the adoptive child is over twelve (12) years old, then the child must consent as well. If the biological parent is absent or unknown, then it is necessary to conduct a diligent search and inquiry to find the natural parent in order to put the parent on notice of the intention to adopt your step-child.
At the final hearing, the child’s birth certificate is amended to reflect the name of the adoptive parent, and the child’s name may be amended to include the stepparent’s last name, if the adoptive parent is the step-father.
If the biological parent has either deserted the child or has otherwise abandoned the child, it is not necessary for the stepparent to obtain his or her consent. Specifically, consent is not necessary if the parent’s rights were terminated in another proceeding. This can happen if: (1) the parent has voluntarily executed a surrender of parental rights document; (2) the parent has abandoned the child; (3) the parent has engaged in behavior that endangers the life, safety, well-being or health of the child; (4) the parent is incarcerated for a certain period of time; (5) a child has been adjudicated dependent and the parent has not complied with the case plan filed with the Court; or (6) the parent has engaged in “egregious conduct” that threatened the health and well-being of the child or a sibling of the child. In addition, parental rights may be terminated if the parent has been served with notice and the petition but does not respond to the petition or show up at any court proceeding.
Once the Court enters an order approving the adoption, the parent who is not married to the stepparent will have his or her parental rights terminated, if they have not been already. It is very important for the adoptive parent to understand the legal consequences in connection with an adoption. Once the adoption is final, the adoptive parent is now the legal parent of the child, as if it was from birth. Therefore, if the stepparent and biological parent later divorce, the stepparent can be responsible for child support, as if it was their biological child. It is important to discuss legal consequences such as child support and inheritance with an attorney, to ensure that you are aware of all that adoptions entail.