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!

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.

Help! My Child is Turning 18: Important Legal Docs for Young Adults

Young adult
Turning 18 and becoming a young adult is one of the most significant milestones in our lives, at least legally. This coming of age moment opens new opportunities to vote, enlist in the military, and even serve on a jury. But like Uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” 

Gone are the days where you were able to make all legal, financial, and health care decisions for your child as their guardian. Now your young adult child has the sole power and discretion to make these decisions or delegate them to whomever they deem appropriate. It’s okay; we just wept a little with you. 

As attorneys (and moms!), when we think of eighteenth birthdays, we think of all the necessary legal documentation your child needs. We think of the automatic right to privacy and autonomy now bestowed upon your new 18-year-old. We think of the pediatrician who now looks to your child for answers rather than you. Or the school or college that will not allow you access to your child’s records without your child’s consent. Let that sink in. By virtue of a single birthday, this young adult is now viewed as holding the answers to all the questions asked. If your now adult child wants or needs your help, you cannot help without proper documents in place: Power of Attorney and Health Care Surrogate, or Guardianship/Guardian Advocacy.

Before you continue reading, if your child is developmentally disabled, please read the blog we wrote for special needs children turning 18. There are some pretty big differences between the legal requirements. Now, without further ado, Power of Attorney!

Power of Attorney and Health Care Surrogate

The Power of Attorney allows your child to give decision-making authority to you, a grandparent, or a trusted advisor over any business, legal, and financial transactions. It is important to note that your child will continue to make all these decisions themself, and if their decision is opposite to what you would personally decide, your child’s decision reigns supreme. However, if your child is unable or does not want to make the decision, you can act on their behalf. 

For example, your child gets the opportunity to study abroad. With the power of attorney, you can manage their monthly bills or request travel documents they left sitting on the desk back home. You could purchase real estate, make investments, or renew their vehicle registration. The possibilities are numerous; but more importantly, the Power of Attorney provides security should something tragic occur and your child become temporarily or permanently incapacitated. Rather than rushing to the courts to obtain guardianship to make decisions for your child, you can immediately set in and continue making their decisions with no lapse in time. The last thing you want to do is have your child’s credit destroyed while they are healing or recovering. 

In addition to a Power of Attorney, your child will need a Health Care Surrogate and HIPPA Release which is designed to allow others to make health care decisions if your child is incapacitated with injury or grave illness and allows that person access to privileged health information. Should your child suddenly be injured or ill to the extent they cannot consent to health care treatment, the health care provider will go to the next of kin (who they can find) to make decisions. A Health Care Surrogate designates who your child wants to be the next in line to make decisions and in what order. This can be particularly important, albeit uncomfortable if your child’s parents are divorced, separated, or have a difficult time making co-parenting decisions. It’s not something anyone likes to think about, but it happens. With a HIPPA Release, the named surrogate could be an informed decision-maker who may share details about the family medical history. 

Power of Attorney and Guardian Advocate do not always cross state lines. Making sure you have what you need to protect your child can be tricky if you’re not an expert. At McCart and Tesmer, we deal heavily in Family Law as well as Guardianship. If you have any questions about Power of Attorney, Guardian Advocate, or any other documents you’ve heard can help your adult child, please give us a call at (813) 498-2757 to schedule your legal consultation today. Our law firm is well versed in all types of family law, and if you need advice on legal documents for developmentally disabled adult children turning 18, please refer to this blog for tips and tricks necessary for you and your child.

Help! My Child with Developmental Disabilities is Turning 18: Essential Legal Docs for Young Adults

Developmental Disabilities

As a parent of a child with developmental disabilities, there is a foundational understanding we have of that eighteenth birthday being a very scary one.

For 17 years, you lived in a world where you make all the decisions for your child, and your child may not be ready or able to make independent decisions now. Horror stories run rampant in parent circles that gather around for their developmentally disabled children. Too many of these horror stories are about how once their child turns 18 they lose all decision-making authority. Parents are no longer privileged to health information or are unable to enroll their children in day programs, or group housing. 

It can be a terrible transition from solely responsible to uninvolved. At McCart & Tesmer, we understand those feelings, and our practice helps parents plan and prepare for that next chapter of parenting adult children with developmental disabilities. If your child lacks the ability to know, understand, and appreciate a particular legal document, your child can not consent to signing it. So, if your child is developmentally disabled, it’s likely they are not a candidate for a Power of Attorney or Health Care Surrogate. The document would not be valid. Instead, your child may be a candidate for Guardianship or Guardian Advocacy. Make sure you come to experts and avoid making the wrong judgment call. 


Guardianship is the formal legal process for removing or delegating individual rights from one person and giving them to another, named the Guardian by law. Because of the nature of many developmental disabilities, a Guardian will usually ask a court to relinquish decision-making authority from the developmentally disabled person and give them to the Guardian, usually a family member or loved one. 

This is different from a POA or a Health Care Surrogate, which does include the other party and protects their decision-making ability unless they are incapacitated or chose not to be involved in certain choices. Suppose the disabled adult is determined to be incapacitated by the court. In that case, the Guardian would make business, legal, financial, social, residential, medical, and educational decisions for the developmentally disabled person. 

Guardian Advocacy

Unlike Guardianship, Guardian Advocacy is designed for families with a developmentally disabled child over eighteen years of age who was diagnosed with their disability before turning eighteen. Guardian Advocacy is only available to individuals with an intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome, Phelan-McDermid syndrome, Spina Bifida, or Prader-Willi syndrome, according to Florida Statute 393.063. The condition must be severe enough that the court declares this person does not have and likely will not have the ability to make decisions about their person, property, or estate.

A letter from the child’s doctors outlining the conditions and prognosis is sufficient evidence for  Guardianship Advocacy. Many parents are thrilled to know the option of Guardian Advocacy is available without having their child labeled “incapacitated”. The ability to have some or total decision-making authority without labeling their child incapacitated is one reason many parents and families are choosing to relocate to Florida. We have noticed an influx of parents taking advantage of Florida Guardian Advocacy laws because Florida is one of only a few states which currently has this summary guardianship option available. It’s honestly very progressive of us, and something that we hope will become available to more states in the future. 

We have years of experience with the needs of families with developmental disabled loved ones. Please visit our website for other great resources for Special Needs Children if you’re interested in learning more. Our law firm at McCart and Tesmer is well versed in all types of family law, and if you don’t need advice on special needs legal documents, we have this blog for non-special needs adult children. 

Heard of a Special Needs Trust? Read this before planning your estate!

Special Needs Trust
Life comes at you fast, and before it ends, it is best to have your affairs in order. Dark, we know! But important nonetheless. In the event of your incapacitation or death, an estate plan anticipates and predetermines how your assets — like your home, bank accounts, life insurance, car, and more — disperse to your Successor Trustee and/or beneficiaries. Whether it’s the unthinkable or the inevitable, you should do everything in your power to prepare your estate and what you leave behind for your loved ones. We have already talked about why you need an estate plan. And for families with a special needs child or adult, a Special Needs Trust eastate plan is critical. At McCart and Tesmer, we have a wealth of experience in estate planning and can offer extra guidance for families with special needs children.

So, what makes traditional estate planning so different from estate planning with a child that has special needs? Pretty much everything. Special needs children and adults often have governmental benefits like SSI or Medicare. Not everybody knows that these benefits could be put at risk if the special needs child received a traditional inheritance. More on that later. If your estate plan is not created by someone who has experience specifically with special needs, you run the risk of them becoming ineligible for these government benefits. There are many options to choose from to avoid this, and at McCart & Tesmer, we recommend that you create a Special Needs Trust. Let’s break down what that is, why it is necessary, and what options fall under Special Needs Trust. 

What is a Special Needs Trust?

First off, what’s a traditional trust? A trust is created by a person and their lawyer to transfer parts or all of their assets to their trustee(s). It can protect whatever you choose to leave the trustees from creditors, taxation and probate. Trusts are often used for people who are underaged or mentally impaired in a way that could impact their finances. Once a beneficiary is deemed competent they can possess the trust without supervision.  

A Special Needs Trust is a type of trust designed to help continue the care of a disabled person once a person normally entrusted with that care passes or becomes incapacitated. Not only can it offer the person with disabilities supplemental income, but it can set up their medical care needs as well. Make sure that there are people who know where your legal documents are before you pass or become incapacitated, otherwise we did all the hard work of planning without the rewards. 

Extra provisions that make a Special Needs Trust different include selecting your child’s guardian or conservator beyond the age of 18, if needed. There should be a Trustee appointed to handle money for your special needs beneficiary. It is good practice to have a shortlist of people who could step in as conservator or guardian if your first choice also becomes incapacitated or passes. The Trustee can provide the beneficiary money for a multitude of everyday costs, but the Trustee must consider the beneficiary’s disbursements on a case-by-case basis. The reasons for dispersal are fairly flexible. It could be for their pet dog or a haircut — whatever they need. However, if a Trustee mismanages dispersals, by not documenting them properly or by giving the beneficiary more than the limit set for allowable earnings, they can put the beneficiary’s benefits at risk. 

Why do I need a Special Needs Trust?

Depending on the severity of the person’s disability, they truly may not be able to take care of themselves. They will need someone to make medical choices, financial choices and day-to-day choices for them. If you chose to cut out your special needs child and trust your able-bodied child to “do the right thing”, there is always a chance that child would fail to honor your request. 

In the state of Florida, if a disabled person receiving Medicaid has countable assets that exceed the earning limit they can lose their eligibility. Medical insurance is not a safety net for disabled people, it is a lifeline. Putting this at risk directly puts your special needs child at risk. Luckily, assets in a Special Needs Trust are not included in this calculation. 

Not to mention, government assistance is not guaranteed. The programs your child relies upon could be defunded or altogether eliminated. If there is not something in place in the event of any of these situations, your child is left vulnerable. However, if you have set up a Special Needs Trust your child will have something to fall back on. And that’s where we come in!

What are my options? 

First-Party Supplemental Needs TrustThis is a discretionary trust that is funded with the assets of a supplemental needs beneficiary. Oftentimes the disabled individual’s funds are used for their own benefit but are placed in the trust to pay for future expenses without interfering with their needs-based government services. 

Third-Party Supplemental Needs Trust- This discretionary trust provides stability for people who cannot live independently or earn their own income. The main difference is that a third-party SNT is funded by a family member or guardian for the benefit of a disabled person. 

Third-party trusts have several benefits including no limitations on the number of assets in the trust.

Special Needs Pooled Trust These trusts are run by nonprofit organizations that will administer supplemental income to the beneficiary. Pooled trusts apply fees, offer different services and contracts in different capacities. 

Finding the right Special Needs Trust for you and your special needs child requires a legal expert who specializes in estate planning. At Mccart & Tesmer, we know that an estate plan can save your family a lot of pain, time, and stress. We have seen time and time again what happens when plans are not in place following the death of a loved one, and trust us — it is not pretty. Let the professionals at McCart & Tesmer do what we do best and get your plans in order.

Special Needs Children and Divorce: Intentional Co-Parenting is Key


Divorce is hard. Co-parenting is tough. Add in special needs for your child and it is almost impossible to hold it all together for the child. Divorced co-parenting with a special needs child requires frequent communication from both parents. The conflict level and circumstances of the divorce can make co-parenting straightforward or strenuous. The way you choose to co-parent will impact every child differently. Their special needs, individual temperament, and the child’s age are additional factors to be considered. Divorced parents who are co-parenting with a special needs kid is a subject that just isn’t talked about enough. Since we focus on Family Law  at McCart & Tesmer we decided to change that.

Special needs is an umbrella term that can refer to physical or cognitive disabilities,  autism, ADHD, and so much more. Whatever the case, when it comes to co-parenting your special needs child, it is crucial to consider the nature and gravity of their needs. There is no one-size-fits-all special needs plan, but there are things that all parents with special needs kids need to consider. 

  • Being Flexible for the Child’s Fluctuating Needs
    When a child has special needs, there are extra considerations. Things like medications, emotional irregularities, physical distress or comfort, Individual Education Plans, equipment that can vary in mobility are not always static. These things will fluctuate and change and must always be at the top of your mind. Pro-Tip — Remember that some battles are not worth fighting if your co-parent is not on board with certain needs-related decisions. As they say, “Pick your battles.” Is it about “being right” or the child’s best interests?
  • Create a Decision-Making Structure
    Medical, emotional, educational, and financial needs will often vary. A go-to decision-making structure can relieve some of the stress involved in the ever-changing day-to-day. We suggest prioritizing the decision based on urgency. Consider where your and your co-parent’s strengths, weaknesses, and expertise lie in order to divide options by category or split everything 50/50. Finding what works best for you and your co-parent will significantly reduce all decision-making stress. For example, Mom handles scheduling doctor’s appointments, and Dad takes on in-home care communication.
  • Stick to Routines
    No matter the custody agreement or what conflicts may arise: routine is critical. If possible, schedule medical or therapeutic appointments that do not change month to month. Stick to whatever dietary routine has been agreed upon and established. Changing something simple like a bedtime ritual can seriously disturb a special needs child’s sense of stability. Divorce is already a layer of instability for your child’s world, and it’s essential to do everything you can for their comfort. Maintaining consistent routines is a huge part of that.
  • Take Stock of Available Resources
    Support groups, therapists, caretakers, non-profits, and government supplements to income can all be possible resources. There are groups for sensory integration disorder, autism, ADHD, Down Syndrome, and more in the Tampa area. Programs range from art to equestrian activities. There are non-profits like the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities(AAIDD) that offer educational workshops and journals. Since the start of the pandemic, many more groups offer virtual components as well. Do some research to find what meets your needs.
  • Preparing Them Together for the Future
    Disabled adults often face many things non-disabled adults would never have to consider. Disabled adults risk losing needs-based government aid like Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income if they get married. Depending on the state, possessing more than $2,000 in the bank can disqualify a disabled person from receiving government aid. Implementing a Supplemental Special Needs Trust can help. If the child’s independence is not possible, when will conservatorship or guardianship be necessary? To ensure the child’s success growing into an adult, devise a plan with your co-parent to educate your child on their legal protections and available resources before turning eighteen.
  • Take Care of Yourself
    Just because this is last on the list doesn’t mean it’s not essential. Parents of kids with special needs should still be able to have a life! Caretaking is incredibly stressful, so it is easy to get burned out. When you add divorce and everyday responsibilities, it can be incredibly tough to make time for self-care. Taking care of yourself can model important behaviors like setting and understanding boundaries, self-care, and independence, to name a few.

Parents take extra steps to ensure proper development psychologically, physically, and emotionally for their special needs kids. In previous posts, we’ve written about parenting planning tools, and all of these can be starting points for special needs kids as well. Please contact us at McCart & Tesmer, P.A. for additional guidance and support on parental planning.

7 Back-to-School Resources For The Upcoming Florida School Year

The upcoming school year is quickly approaching which means it is time for parents and children to start getting prepared! With schools allowing students to return to campus, access to back-to-school resources is essential for a successful school year. 

Based in Tampa Bay, Florida, the team at  McCart and Tesmer decided to gather a few back-to-school resources for the families in our area to ease the stress of returning to classrooms this year.

  1. Tax-Free Week – By far, one of the most helpful back-to-school resources for parents is Florida’s Tax-Free Week. From Saturday, July 31 to Monday, August 9, back-to-school shoppers can take advantage of tax-free school supplies. Tax-Free Items include most school supplies selling for $15 or less, accessories, clothing, footwear selling for $60 or less, and more! Click here to learn more about Florida’s tax-free week at.
  2. School Supplies – Going back to school requires buying all of the supplies necessary for the new school year. School supplies can become expensive as lists grow longer each year. Luckily, Hillsborough County Public Schools is putting on their “14th Annual Back to School Fair” at WestShore Plaza mall in Tampa. The back-to-school fair is free to attend and will offer free backpacks to the first 500 kids in line! The event will include giveaways, performances, activities, and over 60 different vendors. Click here to learn more about this valuable back-to-school resource.
  3. Back-to-School Health Clinics – COVID-19 is still a looming issue among children returning to school. To protect the health of students, faculty, and staff, The Back to School Coalition of Hillsborough County has organized “Back-2-School Health Clinics”. The “Back-2-School Health Clinics” are available to students in kindergarten through high school. The clinics provide physicals, eye exams, dental screenings, immunizations, and shot record updates. The COVID-19 vaccine will also be available to children 12 to 18; however, space is limited. Click here to register!
  4. School Meals – Having a healthy meal at lunch is essential for school children. Hillsborough County Student Nutrition Services offers free breakfast for all students and low prices for school lunch meals. Many children do not have access to fresh and healthy meals. If you are in a household receiving benefits, your child may be eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals. Click here for more information about this back-to-school resource.
  5. After-School Programs – Keeping children motivated and active is paramount during their developmental years. After-school programs are a great way to provide physical, social, academic, and emotional growth for children. Hillsborough County Public Schools provides a before and after school program called HOST. HOST is an affordable option for parents who work full-time or are looking for physical and academic support for their children. To register your child, visit https://www.hillsboroughschools.org/Page/3768. For a list of other exceptional after-school programs click here.
  6. Homework Help –  Children need a little homework help sometimes, math in particular. Hillsborough County Public Schools offers a free service to all students called the Math Homework Hotline. Students can call in and ask specific questions about any of their math problems. On certain Thursdays, the Math Homework Hotline conducts a live show broadcasting math questions and topics. Topics include everything from Linear Functions to Ratios and Rates. Click here to utilize this back-to-school resource.
  7. Mental Health – With the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic, it is crucial now more than ever for students of all ages to take care of their mental health. After a far from typical year, students returning to school may be struggling a bit with their mental health. Mental health problems can interfere with children’s learning, relationships, and emotional development. The Florida Department of Education provides resources and contacts for children struggling with their mental health. Parents also have access to speak with a member of Student Services, a school social worker, school nurse, school psychologist, or school counselor. Click here to learn more!

After a hectic year (and summer!), returning to the classroom can be a little less stressful with these 7 Back-to-School Resources for the 2021-2022 school year. Make sure you take advantage of all of the back-to-school resources available for the best success. The lawyers at McCart and Tesmer want to wish you and your families an incredible academic year filled with in-person learning, laughs, and lots of fun! Give us a call for all of your family law needs.

6 Effective Proactive Co-Parenting Tools for Back To School

The summer goes by so fast, and before you know it, it’s time for the kids to head back to school. This means it’s time to think about things like back-to-school shopping, choosing extracurricular activities, figuring out transportation, considering holidays to come, to name a few. For families where divorce is involved, proactive co-parenting is a must. At McCart and Tesmer, we have a great deal of experience in Family Law and have seen some clever tactics to provide a much smoother school year for both parents and the children. 

Here are the things we suggest for the most successful back-to-school proactive co-parenting.

  1. Review Your Parenting Agreement.  Assuming you already have a parenting agreement in place, reviewing it before the school year begins allows parents to look ahead and prepare for things like upcoming travel and school holidays. A fresh set of eyes on your agreement can also reveal any missing contacts for childcare or emergencies. This review is also a great time to make any adjustments to the Agreement if necessary (with the help of your lawyer(s)) to avoid scheduling conflicts in the coming school year. It is also a great time to decide on transportation for extracurricular activities and the pickup and drop-off duties to come. If you don’t yet have a Parenting Plan in place, click here to get a free template.
  2. Let Technology Help! Consider using an app designed to help divorced parents communicate better. OurFamilyWizard is one of our favorites, and it was created by a divorced couple who understood there was a need for a tool to help co-parent as smoothly as possible. The application allows each parent to have their account, and then they can add in other users such as therapists, lawyers, and extended family. Helpful apps for divorced parents usually feature a shared calendar. This comes in handy for both parents to see what is upcoming and communicate directly through the app to avoid confusion.
  3. Create One Email Per Child. This one might sound strange, but it works! Proactively create a specific email for your child to give to the school for all communication. Both parents have access to this email address for full transparency. A single email streamlines communication between parents and the school regarding essential things like announcements, report cards, parent-teacher conferences, events, etc. 
  4. Discuss School Supplies.  In Florida, things directly relating to a child’s education (book, uniforms, pencils, etc.) should be covered by child support. Agreeing about needs, budget, and shopping for and paying for school supplies BEFORE school starts can help avoid unnecessary conflict in an already stressful time. For the sake of record-keeping, it is recommended that the parent paying for the supplies buys the specific supplies rather than sending money to the other parent. 
  5. When Possible, Attend Parent-Teacher Conferences Together. Being a united front as co-parents is especially important for the education of the child or children. Attending meetings like this together makes it easier for the teachers by showing that both parents are committed to supporting the child’s education. Of course, there are cases where having parent-teacher conferences together is not possible. In those cases, it is essential to utilize most if not all of the tips here to ensure communication is evident between the teacher and parents.
  6. When Conflicts Arise, And They Will, Put The Child’s Interest First. Every divorce has its share of conflict, or both parties wouldn’t be divorced. That said, it is crucial for both parents to always come back to the common goal: your child’s health and happiness. The decisions you make should have the child’s interest at the forefront, and any conflict between the parents should be secondary. Be aware of how you speak to the other parent in front of the child; disagreements can wait until they aren’t around. Remember, you are shaping our future through your children, so be sure to give them the best chance by working WITH your co-parent.

Hopefully, this list of tips and tricks will help you as you enter another school year. Even though the marriage didn’t work out, it is possible to provide an incredible school experience for your kiddo. The lawyers at McCart and Tesmer can help you sort out many of the complexities of your divorce, from custody to parenting plans and everything in between. They can help you find ways to ease the discomfort of the divorce by providing the knowledge and tools necessary for the co-parenting journey. Proactive co-parenting not only works, but it can make all the difference in the world by avoiding the unnecessary and planning for the future together. 

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!