Every so often, marital and family law changes dramatically. We are in the midst of one of those times. Custody, visitation, residential parent, etc. have already morphed into timesharing and parenting plans. That change has dramatically affected the rulings we are getting from the courts. What was true two years ago is no longer true. Although the statutes still give lip-service to the best interests of the children, the changes clearly emphasize parental rights over the children’s interests.
On the heels of the changes to the law about children, we are seeing drastic changes in the law on alimony. The legislature has given us “durational alimony” and changed the rules for permanent alimony. Although the laws still allow the courts discretion in awarding alimony, the current trend is clearly against permanent alimony. Over the next several months, we will address how this trend is affecting our positions in cases.
What has brought about these changes? In the past, activist legislators (usually ones who didn’t do well in a divorce) would impose their personal agendas on the state. Of course, the loudest voice is often the one that gets heard. Lately, the moving force seems to be special interests in the Family Law section of the state Bar. By special interests, I don’t mean to equate well-meaning activists in the section with self-serving lobbyists, but it is my opinion that the changes aren’t necessarily beneficial or reflect the opinions of most family law practitioners or judges. We will only learn over time whether the changes will ultimately work or endure.
One trend that has endured is pro se representation. Pro se refers to parties representing themselves in divorce cases. Again, special interests induced the Florida Supreme Court to make it easy for people to file their own cases, but the ease in filing didn’t make any more likely that the unrepresented people would have any understanding of their rights or entitlements, or of the court procedures. Of course, it is a constitutional right to represent oneself in court, but that doesn’t make it wise. However, with the crippled economy, more and more people are taking the risk.
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