Name Change for Adults & Children – Top 8 Scenarios

Name Change
There are many reasons a person may seek a name change – marriage, divorce, or simply a dislike for their current one! This blog will walk you through the most common cases and introduce you to the name change process. The attorneys at McCart & Tesmer assist clients with the name change process; get in touch with us if you have questions about legal name changes in Florida.

Top Reasons For Name Changes:

  1. Marriage or Divorce – 

There are several paths to take when it comes to name change after marriage,

including:

  • Taking your spouse’s surname.
  • Hyphenating your surnames.
  • Creating a new last name for one or both of you.
  • Taking your spouse’s name legally, but keep your given name professionally.
  • Taking your spouse’s last name and making your given name your middle name.


Similar options exist when finalizing a divorce. Some individuals choose to return to their given surnames, while others prefer to keep their married name to be the same as their children’s. 

  1. Changing Child’s Surname to Mother’s, Father’s, or Stepparent’s –

Various life circumstances can warrant a name change for a child, such as being adopted by a relative or step-parent or a parent getting married.

While a child’s biological parent, adoptive parent, or legal guardian may ask the court for a name change, all other legal parents or guardians must give written permission, known as consent. 

  1. Correcting a Birth Certificate – 

Errors or omissions can occur on a birth certificate, particularly if the birth certificate was hand-written. Frequent errors that occur include misspelling of a name, missing or extra space in a name or an incorrect maiden name for the mother. If the child’s birth certificate was just issued (Florida law requires a birth certificate to be filed within five days of birth with the local registrar), the correct can be quickly caught and made.  However, after this period of time, a court order permitting the corrective birth must be obtained.

  1. Name Changes for Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Individuals –

Because a person’s name follows them everywhere, people want to feel comfortable with theirs. Often transgender individuals choose to change their first name to one that best aligns with their gender identity.

  1. Aspiration, Spiritual, Religious –
    Some individuals desire to change their name to reflect their beliefs, vocation, or experiences, or to honor their heritage by taking a lost family name.
  2. Dislike of Current Name –
    One of the top reasons people change their name is simply because they dislike it. Whether a person prefers to go by their nickname, middle name, or a different name altogether, legally changing one’s name to the one they prefer is a valid and legal reason.
  3. Simplify – 
    • Spelling or Pronunciation – A name change can eliminate hard to pronounce or hard to spell names.
    • Length of Name- A long first name and second name may not fit on government ID’s (really, it’s happened!)
    • Uniformity of ID – Over time, many people adopt name variations, which can cause problems in official records. Some choose to change their name so that it appears the same on all of their important documents (passport, driver’s license, social security card, military ID, birth certificate, etc.).
    • To Match Their Children’s – Single parents can especially experience difficulty accessing school or medical services if their names do not match.
  1. Branding or to Stand Out From The Crowd – 

Some individuals choose to change their name for notoriety, whether brand recognition or to entertain and/or shock people. 

Entertainers often adopt a stage name and want to make it legal at some point. The same can be true for business professionals who have gained a certain notoriety.


One of our favorite stories of stand-out name change is that of Daniel Knox-Hewson. Hewson, a 23-year-old from the UK, legally changed his name to “Emperor Spiderman Gandalf Wolverine Skywalker Optimus Prime Goku Sonic Xavier Ryu Cloud Superman Heman Batman Thrash.” How is that for distinctive?

Florida Name Change Requirements:

  1. Complete a ‘Petition for Change of Name’ (Minors, Adult, or Family). 
  2. Get fingerprinted for a criminal history background check. 
  3. File the completed petition with the clerk of court and pay the filing fee of $401 (subject to change without notice).
  4. Once your application has been accepted and your filing fee paid, the clerk will set your hearing date. Hearing dates vary significantly between counties. This may be scheduled within days, weeks, or as long as six months away. 
  5. Ask for at least 2-3 certified copies of your name change order so you can change your records with various organizations without waiting for your only certificate to be returned.

No matter the reason, legally changing your name can be complicated, and the requirements vary case-to-case. Once your name change is finalized, you will have additional steps to take, such as getting a new social security card, contacting account holders to change your name, etc. The attorneys at McCart & Tesmer are here to help. For a consultation to discuss your matter, please call (813) 498-2757 or email info@McCartTesmer.com.

Post-Divorce Checklist: 7 Steps for Success After Your Divorce

Divorce
You did it! Your divorce has been finalized. Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back for surviving that process. Your fresh start is on the horizon. To help you begin your fresh start, we have compiled a checklist of common action items following a divorce.   
  1. Review Your Final Judgment
    1. Create a list of the items you and your ex-spouse need to complete 
    2. Calendar deadlines for each item that must be met
  2. Close Joint Accounts
    Joint accounts include bank accounts, credit cards, and utilities, and may include removing a spouse from joint real estate pursuant to the final judgment.
  3. Update Insurance Coverage
  1. Automobile: be sure to remove any vehicles you no longer own
  2. Property Insurance: remove the property you no longer own and add the property you now have
  3. Life insurance: update beneficiaries which may include removing your spouse as beneficiary (unless otherwise ordered in your final judgment)
  4. Medical, dental, vision, accident
  1. Name Change (if included in your Final Judgment)*
    1. Order at least two certified copies of the Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage
    2. Take a certified copy of the Final Judgment to the Social Security Administration to change the name associated with your social security number
    3. Take your new social security card or temporary card to the DMV for your new license
    4. Keep a certified copy for your records
  2. Contact Account Holders To Update Your Name:
    1. Professional Licenses
    2. Bank Accounts
    3. Credit Card Accounts 
    4. Utilities 
    5. Medical records

*Changing a name after divorce can become complicated, and the attorneys at McCart & Tesmer, P.A. are ready to help. For a free consultation to discuss your matter, please call (813) 498-2757 or email info@McCartTesmer.com. Read more about the process in our blog, “Name Change After Divorce.”

  1. Taxes

Schedule an appointment with your accountant or a CPA (a Certified Public Accountant) to determine which filing status is most beneficial to you. Read our blog, 7 Family Law Tips For Managing Tax Season, to prepare for your meeting ahead of time.

  1. Update Your Estate Plan 
    1. Remove prior designations naming your ex-spouse
    2. Nominate a guardian for minor children
    3. Create a trust to control the money that you plan to pass to children to prevent an ex-spouse from receiving and managing funds left to your children

The lawyers at McCart and Tesmer can help you sort out many of the complexities of your family’s restructuring after divorce, from time-sharing and decision making to child support and everything in between. We can give you the tools necessary for your new journey. For further questions regarding post-divorce plans, please contact us at McCart & Tesmer, P.A.

Managing Tax Season – 7 Family Law Tips

Tax Season

“…In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin. Even though Benjamin Franklin’s infamous quote is over 200 years old, the sentiment still rings true today. 

Taxes are inevitable and complicated. Add a divorce into the equation and tax season may become even more complicated.

The first tax season after informally parting ways or legally divorcing can be confusing and full of unknowns. As the tax filing deadline grows closer, questions may arise such as: 

Were there changes to federal tax law that could affect my family?” 

“Is alimony deductible?” 

“Who can claim the children on their taxes?”

“Can we split the mortgage interest deduction?”

The first place to start to answer these questions and any other questions is to seek out a Certified Public Accountant (also known as a “CPA”).  A CPA can take a look at your personal finances and any agreements between the parties to determine which filing status is most beneficial to you.  In order to prepare for the meeting with your CPA,  we suggest preparing to answer or ask the following questions: 

  1. If I’m recently separated, what is my filing status?
    Your marital status on the last day of the tax year determines your filing status.  If your marriage has not been legally dissolved by December 31st of the tax reporting year, you are technically still married and should file as such. 
  1. My partner and I live together, do we have the same rights as married couples? Can we file jointly?
    Unfortunately, no. Only a married couple can file a joint return. The IRS considers cohabiting couples “single” individuals.
  2. If we are unmarried, who claims the children?
    If your divorce agreement does not specify who claims the children, then unmarried couples can choose who may claim each child. However, they can not claim the same child. If you have joint custody, the parent who has the child the greatest number of days during the tax year gets to claim the child as a dependent. If you do not yet have a Parenting Plan (also called a custody agreement) in place, click here to get a free template or contact our office for a consultation.   It is possible to come to an agreement where you will alternate years you claim a child.  If you are alternating years you claim a child make sure you complete IRS form 8332- Release/Revocation of Release of claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent.  This document allows a custodial parent to pass the tax exemption for a dependent child to the noncustodial parent.  You can find this form at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8332.pdf
  1. Who can claim Advance Child Tax Credit Payments in 2021?
    While exemptions for dependents ended in 2018, whoever qualifies to claim the child will also potentially qualify for benefits, including: head of household filings status, the $2,000 child tax credit, the $500 non-child tax credit, the credit for child and dependent care expenses, and the earned income tax credit – totaling thousands of dollars in potential tax breaks.  Under the American Rescue Plan of 2021, advance payments of up to half the 2021 Child Tax Credit were sent to eligible taxpayers. If you received advance payments, you can claim the rest of your credit, if eligible, when you file your 2021 tax return. Child Tax Credit is based on whoever claimed the child in the previous filing.
  2. Is child support deductible?
    No. Child support payments are neither deductible by the payer nor taxable to the recipient. This means that when you calculate your gross income to see if you must file a tax return, you do not include child support payments received.
  3. Is alimony (spousal support) deductible?
    Not anymore! Beginning January 2019, alimony or separate maintenance payments are not deductible from the income of the payer spouse or includable in the income of the receiving spouse if made under a divorce or separation agreement executed after December 31, 2018.
  4. Is my property settlement (or property transfer pursuant to a dissolution of marriage) taxable?
    If your property settlement or property transfer is pursuant to a divorce decree, it is not taxable.

Get a head start for the 2022 tax season

Are you looking to get organized for the 2022 taxes season?

Did you know that charitable donations not only contribute to the greater good but can actually lower your tax liability? These donations (of either money or goods) may be deductible!  

Here are some of our favorite charities that give back in a big way!

  • Trevor Project- The Trevor Project is the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ. Together, as a community, we can support those nationwide and help people know they are not alone!
  • Feeding Tampa Bay- This non-profit is leading the movement to end hunger, rallying our community together to create a healthier, more capable Tampa Bay and beyond
  • Grow Into You Foundation- Show your support by helping foster teens receive mentoring and coaching to give them inspiration and direction!
  • Ukraine Humanitarian Relief-  As the crisis in Ukraine unfolds, donations can make a huge impact in creating relief and recovery efforts for those in Ukraine and neighboring areas.

Click here for a comprehensive guide to charitable contribution deductions.

The attorneys at McCart and Tesmer can help you sort the many complexities of your family’s restructuring, from child support and everything in between. We can help you find ways to ease the discomfort by providing the knowledge and tools necessary for your journey. Visit our website to learn more about our services or call today to set up your free consultation: 813-498-2757.

So We’re Getting a Divorce – But Who Gets The Super Bowl Ticket?

Divorce
It may have seemed like a great idea to purchase sought-after season tickets or coveted end-of-season game tickets with your spouse, but it can get complicated if the marriage goes south before the big game. With the Super Bowl in our rearview for 2022, it makes you think: how would you split a single Super Bowl or World Series ticket in a divorce? 

In our experience, one of the hardest parts of a divorce is dividing property. Florida is an equitable distribution state. This means that in a divorce, the initial presumption is a 50/50 split. While Florida courts shoot for “equitable distribution,” one party may not necessarily receive an equal share. Because there are thousands of scenarios and situations that determine a fair split, there are many rules applied to provide the fairest possible division. When an asset cannot be divided in half and shared by both, the outed spouse may receive a different asset or compensation in exchange. 

This, of course, can be a painful and difficult process that can sometimes turn hostile. You think we’re kidding, but it’s true! There is the case of the divorced couple who had a feud over their season tickets to the world series in 2016. The couple were big Chicago Cubs fans and it had been 71 years since they had made it to the world series. They purchased the tickets before the divorce and now both of them want to be the parent to bring their 12-year-old son to the game. The courts got involved and it got messy. The judge decided that the husband could keep the tickets only if he agreed to also purchase another ticket, somewhere else in the stadium, for his soon-to-be ex-wife at a comparable cost, which at the time was over $3,000. Talk about an awkward game! 

While this is an extreme case, you can see why it is valuable to understand the classifications of marital property in Florida. These categories also apply to all debt incurred before or during the marriage.

Marital Property: Includes any property acquired during the marriage, our ticket dilemma would fit into this category. Vehicles, homes, and even vacations are considered marital property if they were obtained during the marriage. In Florida, these assets are equally split between the spouses in a divorce.

Separate (Non-Martial) Property: Includes any property acquired prior to the marriage, inheritances, and gifts.  In Florida, this type of property is not subject to division unless it is converted to marital property during the marriage (a premarital agreement can prevent this from happening). 

So how can you best prepare for dividing your property? We have 2 main tips to get you started.

  • Prioritize – It is vital to take stock of assets acquired during the marriage and how they were used to decide what is worth fighting for. There may be items that do not mean much to you, like that ratty set of camping chairs, and also items that have deep meaning to you, like a Super Bowl Ticket.  These things should be discussed right away so that the process can move forward.
  • Be Honest – Even though hard feelings are felt by both parties during a divorce, it is never a good idea to withhold information or downright lie about property. Not only can the courts punish active deception like this, without total honesty, your lawyer cannot do their part in protecting and fighting for you. 

Divorce is never easy, but there are ways to prepare yourself for the road ahead. If you are in the divorce process and need help sorting out the division of marital assets, the law office of McCart and Tesmer is here for you. Give us a call for a free consultation today – 813-498-2757

Choosing Guardians of your Minor Child: 6 Considerations

Guardians
We can all agree that raising a child is not simple or easy in any way. Parenting comes with many tough decisions of varying degrees. One of the most challenging decisions as a parent is choosing guardians should care for and raise your minor child if you cannot.  

Often parents designate a caregiver in their Last Will and Testament, which asks that a judge appoint the nominee as a legal guardian of the child. When choosing an appropriate guardian, we suggest considering the following:

  1. Two Guardians or One – When choosing a guardian for your child, you are actually determining two guardians: the guardian of person and guardian of property.  Your nominee can be both the guardian of person and property or there can be two separate guardians. A guardian of the person is responsible for managing the day-to-day tasks a typical parent completes such as the  child’s medical, educational, and residential decisions;  your child will likely live with this person.  The guardian of the property is responsible for managing the child’s property and money.  For example, if your child receives inheritance from a probate or social security death benefits from your passing.  The guardian of property will pay or reimburse the guardian of person for expenses unique to your child such as orthodontics, tutoring, or necessary medical procedures.   It is often helpful to have the same person be both the guardian of person and property; however, some parents choose a person from each parent’s family to ensure the families keep working together and keep both families involved in the child’s life. 
  1. The less disruptive, the better- The first consideration in nominating a guardian, is determining what scenario and who is the least disruptive option for a guardian. Your death will be a massive disruption to your child so the greatest post-mortem gift to provide your child is to minimize the disruption and transition that occurs immediately after you are gone. When choosing a guardian, consider the following: (1) how far your child would need to relocate to live with the guardian, (2) what school they will attend, (3) do you want your child to remain in your home and will the guardian be willing to move (4) does your guardian have children whose lives will also be impacted should your guardian move.  Determining and writing down your child’s needs and your desires to provide the least disruptive option will weigh the considerations which are important to you and disqualify potential guardians who do not align with your goals and needs. 
  1. Age of the Child and Guardian- Different ages require different approaches to parenting.  For example, a teenager may be more independent and have a preference where they would want to live if something happens to you. Having your child join in the conversation may bring comfort to them, knowing that they have a say in the matter and will be taken care of by a trusted family member or friend.   A toddler may require a more hands-on guardian  who will likely be able to care for at least 10 to 15 more years. Will this potential guardian be able to keep up with the high demands of homework, carpools, and kids’ activities of younger children? As children grow, so do their social networks and obligations. Having a guardian who will keep pace with these demands is essential to think about. 
  1. Talk it out and write it down- The best practice when it comes to choosing a guardian for your minor child is to plan ahead and years down the road. Have those tough conversations now and have those conversations with your potential guardians.  Will your guardian be willing and able to step in?  How old will your guardians be in 5 years, 10 years, or even 15 years? Do the guardians understand the potential responsibility.  Do not make your efforts futile by choosing a guardian who does not want to or cannot take over. Once you have a guardian(s) selected and approved, write it down.  Once you have their approval, be sure to reduce it to writing. Contact your estate planning attorney to update or draft your Last Will and Testament to reflect your newly chosen guardian. 
  1. What resources are available-  There will be a cost associated with raising your child which may fall on your guardian of person if social security death benefits are insufficient to cover costs.  You can provide for any inheritance, including life insurance, retirement accounts, and real estate, be made available to cover any deficiency between benefits received and the expenses of your child.  You will want to consider if your child and the guardian remain in your residence, will there be resources available to continue paying for the mortgage or rent?  Should the house be paid in full first to free up resources for other items like groceries, clothes, and extracurricular activities? With a properly drafted estate plan, you can plan ahead with the resources you intend to have to maximize the funds available for your child and minimize any financial burden on your guardian of person. 
  1. Consider a backup Guardian- There is always the chance that the guardian cannot fulfill their obligations as your child’s guardian.  In this case, you should consider selecting a backup individual to step in if necessary. This guarantees that even if your initial plan falls apart, your child will still be taken care of by a responsible party of your choosing.  

Your death will undoubtedly create an emotional hardship on your child, particularly if your child is a minor.  Our time with our children is not promised but we can promise that we have properly planned for a “Plan B” if our “Plan A” is disrupted. At McCart & Tesmer, we are ready, willing, and able to help you make your “Plan B” to give you assurance and comfort knowing your child will always be well-cared for. 

Paternity in Florida

Having children and growing your family is not always what the cinema makes it out to be. It is not always romantic, and it certainly does not run as smoothly as it may be portrayed. While it can be incredible, it can also be messy – and let’s admit it, life can be messy. But while it is definitely a blessing to have children, and quite honestly the biggest adventure of your life, the act of having children can be… well, a little interesting. 

Regardless of your relationship status (complicated marriage, unmarried, or basically a relationship built on a crazy night out with the man you swiped right on the night before) there are several legal factors that go into what determines the paternity of your child and the legal rights of the father. Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, let’s touch on what paternity actually means. 

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, paternity is “the quality or state of being a father.” A paternity action is the legal proceeding that establishes the rights and obligations of the child’s father. These proceedings determine the legality of the father on a state level. This legal acknowledgment of paternity can potentially help you (the mother) petition for child support. 

That’s correct, ladies! This blog is all about who is legally recognized by the state of Florida as the father of your child. Now, we understand that you are probably thinking that the father of your child must be who you had relations (ahem… sex) with. Correct? Well that is not entirely true.

Determining The Father

Determining the paternity of the father can be broken down into two categories. The first, according to the state of Florida, is determined by if a woman gives birth and is married. This means that the legal father of a child is her husband. The second category of paternity is determined by going to court and petitioning to establish paternity with the state. But what happens when you are not married or had a child with someone other than your husband? Ooops! That got complicated…

Let’s start with the basics. In many states, including Florida, there are two types of paternity – legal and biological. That’s it, folks! That’s the tea. Let’s dive in.

Biological Father

For the most part, a biological father is pretty self-explanatory. The biological father is the man whose DNA is shared with the child. In the state of Florida, unless you are unmarried at the time of birth, there is no further action required. When married and giving birth, at least here in beautiful sun-kissed Florida, the biological father has shared rights with the mother, even if they divorce after giving birth.

This is where it gets cute. IF you are unmarried from the biological father at the time of birth, the state will NOT recognize them as a legal guardian of your child. Even though there is shared DNA, the State of Florida still requires you to petition for paternity. According to Florida statutes, the biological father can petition for paternity anytime between birth through the child’s 18th birthday. These petitions of paternity are typically determined through a genetics test.

With that, if you are unmarried and have an amicable relationship, the earlier you petition for paternity, the easier the process will be.    

Legal Father

In the state of Florida, the legal father of a child is recognized as the person who is legally responsible for the child. This person can be the biological father, an adoptive father, or even a close friend. Realistically, it can be anyone that the courts deem as the “legal” father.

This specific father has the same rights as the mother regarding custody, how the child is raised, time-sharing, and much more. In the case of divorce, regardless of whether the legal father is biological or not, you should still prepare for a custody battle because the state of Florida will see them as a legal party.

In either category, you will need to take the appropriate steps to establish the legality of your specific paternity case. People often assume that the name listed on the birth certificate at the time of birth is the legal paternal father. Unfortunately, that is not the case. During a petition for paternity, the courts will and can overturn the birth certificate. Yikes! 

Rights of the Mother

Just like any other family law case, both parties involved have a path to maneuver. If you are a single mother or your child was born out of wedlock, you automatically have full rights and custody of your child. The state of Florida tends to lean on the side of the mother, and in any court case, this gives you the upper hand. However, if you are not capable of taking care of the child on your own the Florida Department of Revenue can issue a court order to petition for paternity – especially if a mother requests government assistance.

On the flip side, if the father denies paternity, won’t sign the appropriate affidavit, or ceases communication with the mother, the mother still has options. And we like options… The mother in turn may file a court action to establish paternity. If the father does not comply, he may risk being held in contempt of court. This can lead to high fines and potential criminal charges. Once the court adjudicates the father’s paternity, the mother is entitled to retroactive child support in Florida.

Why is Establishing Paternity Important?

Establishing paternity helps you and your child navigate the intricacies of life a little easier. From child support to medical history, having an understanding of who the legal father is can help all parties. Here’s how:

  1. Financial – If you are a single mom, it can be hard to plan for your child financially. With a legal settlement with the legal father, you will be able to collect child support.
  2. Inheritance – If the legal father passes away, your child will have the opportunity to collect their benefits like social security, disability, Veteran’s benefits, and life insurance. 
  3. Medical – Establishing paternity of the biological father can help your child understand their medical history from both sides.
  4. Insurance – If the legal father can pay for health insurance, the child would be able to receive coverage through either parent. 
  5. Identity – Representation and self-identity are essential. Allowing your child to know their legal father helps them have a better understanding of themself.
  6. Relationships – No matter your feelings towards the father, your child has the right to build and establish a healthy relationship with the other parent. 

That was a lot, and we barely touched the surface. Navigating through paternity cases can be as straightforward or as complicated as either party makes it. There may be further complications if other variables are involved, like sperm donors or an attempt to disestablish their paternity. Don’t you worry, we’ll cover those situations a different day!

Hiring competent and trustworthy lawyers that possess a little flare and a little sass is critical to any family law case. For over fourteen years, Kristi McCart and Laurel Tesmer have served the Riverview, FL, and surrounding Tampa Bay areas in Marital and Family Law. If you are seeking representation and want honest answers as a team who will fight for you, you’ve come to the right place. 

Give McCart & Tesmer a call today at (813) 498-2757 or click here to drop a line and schedule your free legal consultation today.

Now go forth and be wild… but not too wild because you know, paternity! 

4 Vital Co-Parenting Tips for Military Deployment

Military Deployment
Timesharing is hard enough when both parents are physically present, so imagine what it is like to have one parent far, far away. This is the reality for thousands of families in America when their co-parent is on military deployment to another country or American territory. Sometimes a family will only get a week’s notice before the deployment date. So, learning what to do long before anyone receives orders to mobilize is definitely our recommended course of action. McCart and Tesmer want to share a few tips on co-parenting plans for military deployment. 

Coping with Deployment is Tough for Kiddos

When a parent leaves on deployment, it can be very confusing for kids. This goes double for ones aged younger than 10. Your child will likely need time to adjust to their new reality and they might feel a little confused about what exactly is happening. The most important thing to do if your co-parent deploys is be as transparent as possible about timelines and the co-parent’s whereabouts. This will help make the situation less abstract, and the more concrete it feels, the easier a kid can digest what’s happening. Here are a few tips to guide your child through that process:

  1. Talk about the parent that is deployed. You can share memories with the kids or go to your co-parent’s favorite place and make an afternoon of it. You could recreate a special dish they make or you could coordinate calls with the deployed parent. Whatever you do, do your best to ensure the child feels that co-parent’s love.
  1. Take note of behavioral changes. If they are toddlers, they might throw fits and tantrums or act out in other ways in response to the co-parent’s departure. Pre-schoolers might have lapses in thumb-sucking, toilet training, or emotional regulation. Teenagers might become distant or angry. It’s likely for any school-aged child to perform differently academically and behaviorally in school. Do your best to notice any changes in your child; the earlier you can help them, the better.
  1. Reassure them about safety. No matter how old or young, your child will likely understand to a degree that deployment can be dangerous. Tell them they are safe with you and the trouble is far away. If they seem concerned about the co-parent’s safety, make them aware or remind them that the military has strenuous training to prepare for deployment. The situation won’t last forever, and your child will need to hear that.
  1. Create a coping strategy with them. This one is a little tricky as each child will have different needs. A safe space could be talking with their siblings, a therapist, or you. Coping could be an activity they can access to calm them down like physical movement (dance, sports, ect) or simple meditation. Consider any groups or resources in the area like Military Kids Connect, which provides age-appropriate resources for kids during the deployment process. Again, this tip is easily the most fluid because the right solution will differ depending on age, finances, family structure, and the child’s emotional regulation process. Talk to them about their needs and prioritize their feelings when you plan for the length of deployment. 

We have years of experience with the needs of families who are serving or retired from the military. Please visit our website for all family law-related issues if you’re interested in learning more. Our law firm at McCart and Tesmer is well versed in all types of family law, including special needs children, estate planning, and much more. If you need legal expertise, get in touch with us today to set up a free consultation! 

‘Tis The Season – 7 Tips To Plan For Holiday Timesharing!

Timesharing
Listen, we know. You probably want to talk about green bean casserole, pumpkins, and sugar plums. Maybe even the big guy in the red coat—we certainly do! But before we get knee-deep in decor and side dishes, it is time to get serious about planning for timesharing for the holiday season. Who gets Turkey Day? Is Santa still real this year? Who will be making cookies on Christmas Eve? All of the questions and more need to be discussed now. If you wait too long, there may be a brawl over which grandma gets to cook for the kids on Thanksgiving. 

At McCart and Tesmer, we have a great deal of experience in Family Law. We deeply understand the difficulties of navigating the holidays with someone with whom you have divorced or separated. Trust us; it can be done! The amount of friction during the process has everything to do with considering and planning into the holiday seasons ahead of time.  

  1. Review Your Parenting Agreement. Assuming you already have a Parenting Plan in place, review your Parenting Plan by the beginning of November. If you have not sat down to review your Parenting Plan since the beginning of school, that is okay, but it is time to take another look. Consider upcoming travel (especially out-of-state and international) and the dates of school breaks that are coming up. Now is the perfect time for both parties to make adjustments for future holiday timesharing (maybe with the help of some highly qualified, seasoned lawyers like us). This way you can avoid scheduling conflicts for the upcoming holidays. It is important to prepare your child in the timesharing plan as early as possible. It will give them a great deal of ease to know the plan ahead of time.  If you do not yet have a Parenting Plan in place, click here to get a free template or contact our office for a consultation.
  1. Consider Sharing The Holidays With Your Ex. If you do not have a Parenting Plan, many parents alternate the holidays: one parent has Thanksgiving and the other parent has Christmas Eve and morning. Obviously, this is not a one size fits all recommendation. Some situations or circumstances could make sharing a holiday impossible for some co-parents. If alternating holidays does not work, note these considerations when finding a schedule that works. First, create a schedule that is the most harmonious for your child(ren). Do not argue over transfer times (the difference of 5 or 20 minutes is not worth the fight in the grand scheme of things). Communicate respectfully and clearly because (1) the holiday will be less stressful and more special for your child and (2) you never know if your communication will used in court in the future.
  1. Centralize Communication. Did you know there are phone applications that were designed with timesharing co-parents in mind? We talked about OurFamilyWizard and Talking Parents in a past blog, which are still two of our favorite apps for co-parents. We thought it would be nice to share a new app, WeParent. This App provides the first 14 days free, secure messaging, calendar sync, and collaborative notes accessible for both parents. Users can add as many family members as they would like, including children above the age of 13, and messages are archivable. Apps like these can help keep communication streamlined and minimize frustration which makes it a lot easier to focus on the well-being of the children and the fun of the holidays!
  2. Coordinate Presents and Spending Expectations. Once you receive your kid’s holiday wish list, divvy it up! You can go 50/50 on costs or let one person get a high-cost item and let the other parent get the smaller presents. This is not the time to out-Christmas your ex by going over the top with presents. Remember that no matter the amount you spend or the number of gifts you provide, the holidays are tough for kids with two households. What is most important is that your children know you love them with or without enough ribbons and bows to cocoon the coast of Tampa Bay. 
  1. Child Support. A talk about spending expectations for co-parents would not be complete without mentioning child support. Child support should remain the exact same for the holiday season, but there are some important considerations to make. Bank closures or employers taking leave for the holidays may cause a delay in payments. If you are the child support paying parents, stay on top of your pay schedule and amount.
  2. Take Care of Yourself! The holidays can be hard on parents too! Getting through the holidays after a break-up or divorce can be made easier with a survival guide, but all in all, you have to take care of yourself in order to take care of your family. Whether or not you are able to celebrate important holidays and traditions with your children, self-care is vital for parents this time of year and always. Between decorating, spending, cooking, and entertaining—make sure you set some time aside for yourself. We suggest that you take a moment during the holiday season to schedule at least one day to do an activity that makes YOU happy. Maybe it is a mani-pedi, or a brunch date with friends. Whatever you choose, this time is solely for you. When you refill your proverbial cup, you replenish your energy to pour back into your loved ones. 
  1. Plan Substitute Holidays. Oftentimes holidays focus more on traditions and time with family than a date on the calendar. If you’re open to it, pick a new day on the calendar! Your children will likely barely notice the calendar but will remember the time spent together as a family.  Perhaps create a new, but equally fun, tradition. Who says you should not have two Christmas celebrations?  If you’re the parent that does not get Christmas Day this year due to timesharing, perhaps an “Elves’ Eve” or “Rudolph’s Day” is your day to celebrate!

The first holiday season after a separation or divorce can be scary and full of unknowns. Even if your holiday celebrations look a little different this year, we promise that you can get through this. The important thing is to keep it fun and loving for the kids while handling the logistics and planning behind the scenes.

The lawyers at McCart and Tesmer can help you sort out many of the complexities of your family’s restructuring, from timesharing and decision making to child support and everything in between. We can help you find ways to ease the discomfort by providing the knowledge and tools necessary for your journey. Proactive co-parenting not only works but can make all the difference in the world by avoiding any unnecessary pitfalls that may come. For further questions regarding parenting plans, holiday timesharing, exchanges, please contact us at McCart & Tesmer, P.A.

Not Tying The Knot? 6 Tips to Protect Your Property As An Unmarried Couple

unmarried couple
Florida isn’t the marrying kind, apparently. The United States is hitting record lows for marriage rates, and Florida is even lower than the national average with less than 16 people per 1,000 people getting married each year. If you have no upcoming plans to get married—you are the majority! Being an unmarried couple has its benefits, such as maintaining your monthly alimony from a prior divorce or sustaining financial aid awarded to your college-aged student. Surely there are additional reasons people are not marrying their significant other but it is hard to pinpoint exactly why fewer and fewer Floridians are tying the knot. 

We believe the COVID-19 pandemic is in part to blame. It is unsafe to have large gatherings and venues have closed and re-opened only to close again. There have also been significant shifts in economic and cultural realities across the board. Younger generations are pulling away from traditional values, and the reality is that buying a home is not as easy as it was for the Boomers and Gen X. People are still falling in love and starting families—really doing all of the things that married couples do– but without the marriage license. 

So, if you are in a devoted partnership where the two of you live together and share property, what does a split look like? We mean, legally speaking. Who gets the dog? Who keeps the car? What about my Funko Pop collection? (We are willing to part with the ‘08 Honda Civic if it means we can keep the baby Groot funko.) What happens if one of you is incapacitated or passes away? Because the State of Florida does not recognize Common Marriage Law, these are valid questions that folks without legal experience in this arena may not have answers to. We have written about the rights of unmarried couples before, and due to the popularity of this topic and our experience in Family Law, we will focus specifically on property rights for unmarried couples. 

In the event of separation…

Cohabitating couples should be aware of legal rights available to them and their significant others. Unlike married couples who have an entire Florida Statute dedicated to guiding how the married couple should divide their property, unmarried couples are left with many more questions than answers.

For homeownership, the deed dictates the division.  Whoever owns the property on the deed receives the property after the breakup. If the parties purchased the property together, they likely own the property as Joint Tenants or Tenants in Common. 

If the partners own the property as joint tenants, each partner owns an equal share of the property; this will be specifically acknowledged in the event of a break-up, each partner and joint tenant will take one-half ownership (and equity or liability) of the property. In the event one of the Joint Tenants passes away, the surviving Partner owns the property 100%.  The deceased partner has no ownership for inheritance. 

Conversely, Tenants-In-Common owners own the property in proportion to a specific amount, which is typically the proportion each party financially contributes to the purchase or upkeep of the property. This is also the default property ownership in Florida meaning unless the property deed specifically states “Joint Tenants”, the partners will own the property as Tenants-In-Common. For example, if Partner A contributes 30% toward the down payment, maintenance, and mortgage and Partner B pays for 70% of the same bills, 

“Partner A shall have 30% interest and Partner B shall have 70% interest in said property”. If the parties remain together and one partner dies, the survivor is only entitled to their share of the property.  The deceased partner’s share will pass to the deceased partner’s estate to be probated. If one partner desires to dissolve the relationship and co-ownership, they can always sell or transfer ownership of the property to someone else, even a stranger!

For everything outside of property—debts, assets, banking accounts—these are assumed to be each individual’s responsibility. This differs from marriage, where things are considered jointly owned once divorce proceedings begin. So, watch how much swiping your credit cards as compared to your partner. They will pay none of the debt they may help you incur in the event of separation. If you drive their car, don’t assume it’ll become yours even if you paid insurance and maintenance costs for years. 

In Florida, the law says you’re lucky you’re not getting fined for being an unmarried couple living together! You are really on your own when it comes to dividing property and it can be taken to court, where things aren’t always pretty. As far as legal work goes, the cost for writing up a Tenant Agreement is nothing compared to divorce or going to court. 

In the event of incapacitation or death… 

Unmarried couples may be with each other ‘till death do them part. Last Will and Testament, beneficiary designations, and joint ownership are all great fail-safes for unmarried couples. In the event that your partner needs to make decisions about medical care, finances, or child care you will need additional documents in place. 

Last Will and Testament – Without a will, the things you leave behind will go to your next of kin, which may be children (in any), parents, siblings but not your partner. Having a Last Will and Testament will ensure your partner inherits from you.

Living trust –  A living trust is a similar option to a last will and testament and great for people who want their surviving partner to avoid the hassle and costs of probate. The trust allows the Trust-maker to maintain control of the trust assets (such as property, money, personal property) after the Trust-maker passes.  This may be particularly important if the Trust-maker wants to ensure their partner is cared for during their life but the remaining assets are passed to the Trust-maker’s family, who is not the family of the surviving partner.

Beneficiary Designations – You can ensure your partner has access to funds and property by naming the partner as a beneficiary on any account that permits these designations.  Failure to do so would result in your estate or next of kin receiving these funds and not your partner.  

Joint Ownership of Accounts – By naming your partner as a joint owner of an account, the survivor on the account would have 100% ownership.  This means that if you and your partner share a checking account and you pass away, your partner would keep this property solely.  This account would not become part of your estate or be inherited by anyone else.  But beware!  Co-owning assets opens you up to liability should one of you be sued.  The account could be seized to pay you or your partner’s debts.  Co-ownership also means that either partner can liquidate and empty the account without the other’s permission should there be a break up of the relationship.

Power of Attorney – Your partner does not have the authority to make decisions on your behalf. A durable power of attorney allows your partner to make business, legal, and financial decisions for you. This could include paying bills or filing tax returns in the event that you are unable to.  

Health Care Surrogate – A health care surrogate allows your partner to make healthcare decisions for you that you would have made under the same circumstances.  Without this document, your partner who likely has more intimate knowledge of you and your wishes, cannot make health care decisions for you. In the event of the worst-case scenario of either a break-up or the death of a partner, you will not want to be encumbered by legal technicalities and roadblocks. Your attention will likely be navigating the emotional turmoil that comes with this life shift. Instead, plan ahead. That is something we at McCart and Tesmer can handle for you.

Get in touch with us today to ensure that even if you are an unmarried couple, you and your property are still protected.

4 Unique Challenges of Gray Divorces

Recent high-profile divorces of later-in-life couples such as  Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott, and most recently, Bill and Melinda Gates have renewed the interest in Gray Divorces. The phrase “Gray Divorce” refers to divorcing couples where both spouses are 50 years or older. Gray Divorces, also known as “Silver Splitters” or “Diamond Divorces,” are on the rise with 1 in 4 couples over the age of 50 divorcing as opposed to 1 in 10 couples in 2010. More interestingly, while the overall rate of divorce has continually declined over the last 20 years, the divorce rate of people over 50 is increasing. 

Why are these types of divorces on the rise? A few main reasons that stand out in our modern society. Divorce may simply be a result of overall dissatisfaction in the relationship which leads to divorces. When there are children in the marriage, sometimes the parents have a “postponed divorce” where the parents wait to divorce until the children have graduated and moved out. The new “empty-nesters” now see no reason to stay together. 

Additionally, we have seen a drastic change from when our grandparents were married to what marriages look like today. In general, humans live longer and are typically more financially independent now than ever before. Longer life expectancy and financial independence have lifted the once strong-held belief that the inferior financially dependent spouse must stay married.  Now, both partners typically work outside of the home and are seeking to live their remaining days happy and healthy, relying on their own financial earnings to seek that happiness. This combined with the lessening stigma placed on divorce makes it easier for spouses, typically women, to initiate divorce when unhappy. 

Ending a marriage at a later age, especially after many years of partnership between the spouses, poses unique challenges compared to divorces of younger spouses. There is less time for the parties to “make up” for any losses, particularly finances. Dividing accounts, attorney fees, and paying for two households instead of one will significantly impact the financial health of a Gray Divorcee who has less time to rebound or regrow their wealth. 

We’ve put together the Top 4 Financial Impacts that are especially important in Gray Divorces.

  1. Retirement and Investment Accounts – Since both people in the divorce are heading toward retirement age or are already retired, both partners have likely been planning their retirement with the idea that there would be 2 people and 1 household as they age. When separated, now both parties must find a way to make their retirement cover all expenses solely. It is imperative for the soon-to-be singles to start planning for their new retirement reality right away, working with their attorney and financial advisors to weigh and compare income sources, short term and long-term goals, and the impact of distributing none, some or all of the investment account to the other spouse.
  1. Alimony – Gray Divorces come in all shapes and sizes including spouses who have been together for decades, spouses who are briefly married for the second ( third, fourth, or fifth) time. It is common for one of the spouses to make more money than the other. In this case, it is important to make sure that the person who made less is compensated for the loss of income upon the divorce. However, it is also important to plan for and anticipate the higher-earning spouse to retire and for their income to change. Having someone in your corner who is well versed in figuring out all of these sticky areas will greatly improve the end result. 
  1. Estate – In Florida, spouses are married until the moment the judge signs the final judgment divorcing the couple. This means that even if the divorce has been filed but the final judgment has not been signed, the spouses are legally entitled to inherit from each other. The amount of inheritance can be reduced to the legal minimum with a proper estate plan. By employing a team of experienced family law and estate planning attorneys you can mitigate inheritance to your future ex-spouse.
  1. Beneficiaries and Decision Makers – It is important to make sure you have updated your beneficiaries and decide who should now have your authority to make your financial and health care decisions. This can become difficult with determining decision-makers such as children (from current marriage or prior marriage) and now ex-relatives. All policies need to be reviewed and revised accordingly by professionals to ensure the beneficiaries and decision-makers are consistent with your desires and do not include ex-spouses or relatives (unless you want that).

In these later-in-life divorces, understanding what tools and benefits are available and how they can be distributed is paramount as you plan for a new future. At McCart & Tesmer we specialize in all of the above arenas and would love to sit down and discuss how we can help you. Whether your separation is amicable or more contentious, you need a team by your side to make sure your Gray Divorce goes as smoothly as possible. Give us a call today!