It is an exciting time to be practicing in the area of family law. Florida’s laws relating to family law have changed tremendously in the past few years including substantial changes to time-sharing (including an elimination of the presumption against a 50/50 split), child support (including creating a lower gross up to begin at twenty percent overnights), the elimination of “special equity” substituting it with an unequal distribution claim, and statutory changes to alimony codifying case law presumptions of what is a long term and short term marriage.
Change is, again, in the wind. Alimony reform and other proposed legislation has made it through various committees in both the House and Senate in Florida’s legislature. This new proposed law, if passed, will have dramatic effect on current alimony cases, and, more importantly, on prior alimony cases. The Senate Bill, as currently written, allows the proposed new law to apply retroactively to prior alimony awards.
The proposed law would also provides that equal time sharing with a minor child by both parents is “in the best interest of the child” unless the court makes specific findings otherwise, specifically considering seven factors.
If you are interested in the family law clinic over the next year you could be involved directly in the implementation of sweeping changes in the alimony and custody world.
More to come in Professor Sullivan’s blog later this week!
The Family Law Clinic has been very busy since the beginning of the Spring semester. Currently, the eleven clinicians are managing 65 live cases. Since January 1, 2013, the clinicians have taken five cases to final hearing (trial) and other matters have been presented to the Court through temporary needs hearings - hearings that establish rights and responsibilties of parties during the pendency of a paternity or dissolution of marriage matter until final judgment is reached.
These temporary hearings are “mini trials” because they are full evidentiary hearings. These hearings are a great test of the strength and weaknesses of both parties’ case.
The Clinic successfully litigated, to conclusion, its first case involving custody by an extended family member (not a parent of the minor child) under facts where the parent is still alive and present.
The clinicians are also being exposed to various military issues relating to dissolutions including: addressing the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act, attempting service of military members stationed overseas, seeking the right to allow a minor child to relocate with a deploying service member, and division of military pensions under the military guidelines and Florida law.
So far, it has been an exciting Clinic to be a part of.
It takes deliberate practice and training to become an exceptional legal practitioner. Such practice and training does not occur solely in law school or while you are on the billable clock. To become a great legal practitioner, you must become a eager self learner. To help you learn, take every advantage of opportunities and resources offered by your law school, your work, local legal organizations, and the Bar. Take the initiative to learn about the big picture. For example, one must understand the client’s end goal and an overall case strategy to truly serve a client’s interest well. So, if necessary, learn about a client’s business and become familiar with important aspects of the client’s business and the client’s legal matter even if not related to the specific legal project you are assigned to work on. This work may not result in billable hours for the firm, but think of it as time invested in your career and the possibiloity of taking on a bigger role with the case or client in the future. Invest in yourself.
The Florida First District Court of Appeal just issued an Order denying a Motion to Dismiss an appeal for lack of jurisdiction or for relinquishment of jurisdiction to the trial court. The students in the Florida Appellate Skills Lab successfully argued the jurisdiction and relinquishment issue in a thirteen page written Response to the Motion. As a result of this Order, the Appellee is now required to file an Answer Brief to the students’ Initial Brief addressing the merits of the claim.
The students have also just submitted an Initial Brief in a disability case and have another Initial Brief in a modication of alimony and child support case due next week. The students in the Florida Appellate Skills Lab have worked on five appeals this fall semester all currently pending before the First District Court of Appeal.
Students participating in the new Florida Appellate Skills Lab are currently handling four live appeals all pending before the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahasse, Florida. All appeals were initiated after a full trial in the lower tribunal. Three of the appeals are family law related and one was referred to the Skills Lab from the Florida Coastal School of Law Disability Clinic and is an administrative hearing appeal. The Students have drafted various procedural pleadings required by the Court, and have, or are currently drafting, Initial Appellant Briefs, Answer Briefs and Reply Briefs as required by each case. One team has even had to filed a Motion to Stay the Final Judgment pending appeal and is currently awaiting a hearing date before the trial court at this time. Another team was required to file, within a ten day period, a Response to opposing counsel’s Motion to Dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The issue raised by the Motion to Dismiss and the Response is a common area of malpractice for attorneys. The motion raised the legal question of when does a post trial motion toll the time for filing an appeal? The Students researched and found the necessary case law, Supreme Court committee notes, and amendments to the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure to argue that the list of qualifiying motions in the Appellate Rule, as interpreted by the committee and the courts, should result in a decision in our client’s favor. The Response included a full Memorandum of Law defending against the Motion. This team is also currently attempting to settle the issues pending appeal using alternative dispute resolution processes. The Students are representing pro bono clients at the highest level. The are exhibiting, in real life, the power of the pen and the art of lawyering.