February finds the Family Law Section deep into Florida’s legislative session. Many of our Committees, including our Legislation Committee, put years into working on legislation (whether that means revisions to the current statutes or creation of new provisions within the statutes), work on filed bills (and amendments thereto) and when able provide technical assistance to legislators. However hard a Section member works, the overwhelming feedback is that it is an extremely rewarding experience. 

The Family Law Section as well as the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers are celebrating and recovering from the wildly successful Marital & Family Law Certification Review Course held in Orlando on January 21-22 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Conference Center. The Review Course Committee (which is only made up of 4 members - Michelle Klinger Smith (Chair), Kristin Kirkner, Jerry Rumph and Julia Wyda), along with the Program Administrator (Susan Stafford) did a truly phenomenal job and I cannot thank each one of them enough for the time, dedication and sleepless nights they each put in to make this event what it was! This live CLE provided a great foundation for those taking the certification exam as well as a comprehensive review of current law for practitioners and judges. It is truly a premier program each year and the Section and the AAML were grateful to host so many attendees.

With a look towards next year, Section Committee Preference Forms and Application forms are available to Section members (see story below.) The Section welcomes and encourages all members, whether you are currently involved or are interested in involvement, to complete the Committee Preference Forms and submit the same on or before March 15, 2022. 

The success of the Family Law Section depends on the dedication of those members that serve and lead committees. And for all your time, I thank YOU!

Heather L. Apicella, Chair, 2021-2022
Tune in to the Section's Facebook page on Thursday, Feb. 24 at 12 p.m. for DIVORCE THIS HOUSE, a free Facebook Live presentation facilitated by Section member Don Moll, RCS-D, Divorce Mortgage Specialist. Key topics covered during the short presentation will include:

✅ Confirm divorce mortgage strategies to prevent legal, financial, and tax problems impacting negotiation of mortgage obligations and alimony.

✅ Evaluate recent Florida divorce case developments concerning mortgage mistakes and secured debt shenanigans affecting MSAs (compared to multi-state results).

✅ Learn how job/income insecurity and mortgage forbearance during COVID19 as well as permanent federal tax changes make keeping the house harder (starting 2019) under 2017 Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (costing payor more for recipient to keep less).

✅ Apply Psychology of Divorce Real Estate to financial and tax constraints in fostering informed financial decisions about real property disposition and secured house debt.

™ and © 2007-present CCECI d/b/a DivorceThisHouse.com. All rights reserved.
Committee Preference Forms, along with Applications for Executive Council, Legislation Committee, and Secretary are now all available for download. The deadline to submit all forms is Tuesday, March 15 at 5 p.m.

Click HERE to download each form and get ready to take your Section experience to a new level!
On January 13, 2022, the Supreme Court of Florida issued a Per Curiam opinion amending Florida Family Law Rule of Procedure Form 12.902(e) regarding the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet. The Form was amended to reference Florida Statute 61.30(6) explaining how to calculate child support if the obligor parent’s net income is less than the guidelines schedule or if the parties’ combined monthly net income is greater than the amount in the guidelines schedule. 

The Section appreciates Kristin R.H. Kirkner and Jack A. Moring, Co-Chairs of the Family Law Section’s Rules and Forms Committee, along with our Chair, Heather L. Apicella, for their continuing dedication to the Section and Florida’s families. 

You can access the Supreme Court of Florida’s opinion here.
By: Maria C. Gonzalez, Esq., B.C.S.
Florida Bar Foundation Board Member

Today in Florida, thousands of low-income individuals and families are trying to deal with difficult legal problems alone. For them, access to justice often is elusive, or worse, unattainable.

Civil legal aid organizations throughout the state remove barriers to achieve stable and productive lives — and when the lives of our most vulnerable persons and families are improved, all Floridians benefit.

The Florida Bar Foundation is a public charity and 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide greater access to justice. The Foundation funds local and statewide civil legal aid organizations and projects to improve the administration of justice, increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the legal aid delivery system and expand pro bono initiatives.

Grants funded by the Foundation help children who are lost in the foster system, disaster survivors putting their lives back together, veterans at risk of homelessness, and elderly and disabled Floridians among other needed programs. 

While support for the Foundation’s charitable activities comes from the Interest on Trust Accounts (IOTA) Program implemented by the Florida Supreme Court in 1981, consistently low interest rates over many years have led to historically low IOTA funds. The Foundation counts on support from Florida lawyers, law firms, corporations, foundations and other individuals to enable its work.

One of the easiest ways to support the Foundation is by becoming a Florida Bar Foundation Fellow.

Fellows are life members of the Foundation - core supporters who believe in the value of justice and the importance of the Foundation’s leadership and charitable programs.

Current chair-elect of the Family Law Section, General Magistrate Philip Wartenberg is a recent Fellow and stated, “I decided to become a Fellow in order to help the cause of access to justice for our state’s underserved families and children. Our Section’s history of financial support to the Foundation has brought the critical funding needs of the Foundation to my attention. Becoming a Fellow is my personal way of helping with the Foundation’s worthy mission.” Each Fellow of the Foundation undoubtedly decided that equal justice was worth the investment. Don’t hesitate to become a Fellow.

Florida Bar Foundation Fellows pledge $1,000 to the Foundation over five years. Government, non-profit and young lawyers have the option of extending their pledge over a 10-year period.

If you haven’t already become a Fellow, please consider making your Fellows Pledge now. To become a Fellow, visit https://thefloridabarfoundation.org/fellows-pledge/ (or scan the QR code below with your phone). The Florida Bar Foundation is grateful for the Family Law Section’s continued support!
It's that time of the year! We are now accepting nominations for the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar's 2022 Alberto Romero Making a Difference Award and will do so through April 28, 2022. The Award recognizes the work of Section members and affiliates who provide outstanding pro bono services, engage in significant volunteer community activities that improve the lives of Florida's children and families and encourage other Section members to volunteer. Recent recipients of this distinguished award are Harriet Williams of Tallahassee (2019), Kim Rommel Enright of West Palm Beach (2020) and co-winners, Sarah Kay and Caryn Stevens (2021.)

The Chair, on behalf of the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar, presents the Alberto Romero Making a Difference Award at the annual awards and installation luncheon at The Florida Bar Annual Convention in June. For more information, please contact Robin Scher at membership@familylawfla.org or by calling (561) 626-5640.  You can download the nomination form HERE.
By: Philip J. Schipani, Esq., B.C.S.

Gillespie v. Holdsworth, 2022 WL 162970, (Fla. 2nd DCA, January 19, 2022)

This case is a cautionary tale of failing to provide competent substantial evidence to support the imputation of income. The Court specifically pointed the finger at the Former Husband for failing to meet his burden of proof.
 
The Former Wife moved to Missouri, without her minor children, after several previous failed attempts at petitioning the trial court to permit relocation with the minor children. After her move, the Former Wife requested a modified long-distance time sharing schedule. The Former Husband counter-petitioned for a majority time sharing schedule, termination of his child support obligation and the establishment of a child support obligation with the Former Wife as the obligor. When she moved to Missouri, the Former Wife quit her teaching position in Marco Island, with an annual salary of $78,000.00, and secured a full-time substitute teaching job in Missouri earning $57,600.00 annually. The parties agreed to a parenting plan at mediation and agreed to reserve jurisdiction for the trial court to decide the issue of child support. At the hearing, the Former Wife admitted that she had voluntarily terminated her employment in Marco Island. The Former Wife also testified that she was unable to locate new employment with commensurate income despite diligent efforts. No other evidence was adduced. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court determined that the Former Wife was voluntarily underemployed and imputed $78,000 of annual income to her. 
 
The Second District held that there was not substantial competent evidence to support the imputation of income to the Former Wife. Specifically, the Court stated, “[o]ur careful review of the record shows that Former Husband dropped the ball.” Gillespie v. Holdsworth, 2022 WL 162970, *3. 
 
Imputing income is a two-step analysis: ‘(1) the determination of whether the parent's unemployment or underemployment was voluntary, and (2) if so, the calculation of imputed income. Cash v. Cash, 122 So. 3d 430, 434 (Fla. 2d DCA 2013). In the instant case, the Former Wife voluntarily quit her job. However, that factor alone is not enough to support an imputation of income.  See Wood v. Wood, 162 So. 3d at 136 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014) (“The trial court abused its discretion by imputing income to the former wife solely because she voluntarily left her new employment after only one month.”).  There must be evidence that the underemployed party “is not making diligent, bona fide efforts to obtain reemployment” (first citing Brown v. Cannady-Brown, 954 So.2d 1206, 1207-08 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007)( citing Ensley v. Ensley, 578 So.2d 497, 499 (Fla. 5th DCA 1991)). Moreover, the trial court must be presented with evidence that there are indeed available jobs in the underemployed party’s new community. Andrews v. Andrews, 867 So.2d 476, 478 (Fla. 5th DCA 2004). The Former Husband presented no evidence that there were “available employment opportunities,” in Missouri, “for which Former Wife was qualified,” paying an annual salary of $78,000. Rather, the Former Husband limited his evidence to Former Wife's work history in Marco Island. The determination of the amount of income to be imputed must be based on competent, substantial evidence presented at an evidentiary hearing. Id. As the Second District succinctly summarized the evidence submitted to the trial court by the Former Husband: “[t]oo little.” Gillespie v. Holdsworth, 2022 WL 162970, *3. 
 
The Former Husband is lucky that the Court picked up the ball for him and reversed and remanded for an evidentiary hearing to take further evidence in accordance with 61.30(2)(b).
By: Matthew E. Thatcher, Esq., B.C.S.

Crypto also known as virtual currency is a hot topic in popular culture, the media and with our clients. A virtual currency is defined by Merriam Webster’s Dictionary to mean any form of digital currency that is not issued by a central regulating authority and relies upon cryptography to prevent counterfeiting and fraudulent transactions. 

The “classic” virtual currency that comes to mind for most people is Bitcoin. But because virtual currencies are not the result of a governmental action (like traditional currency), anyone can and effectively has created their own virtual currency. At present, there are at least 7,713 different identifiable virtual currencies ranging from Bitcoin, to Etherium, to Doge Coin, to obscure coins with negligible value. See more HERE. 
 
Florida Family Law Rule of Procedure 12.285(e)(11) requires that as part of mandatory disclosures, parties produce statements reflecting virtual currency transactions over the preceding 12 months along with a current statement of their holdings. Because of the decentralized nature of virtual currency, obtaining these records, to the extent that they exist, can be difficult. Your client or the opposing party may be using a digital wallet that does not produce statements. Or they could be using an app on their phone which does not preserve historical data. Just because it is difficult does not mean that we should not be aware of it and do our best to work with our clients to ensure their compliance with the disclosure requirements of Rule 12.285. Additionally, because getting the records may not be as easy as requesting a bank statement (or even subpoenaing an institution to get records), as a practitioner, you should be aware of the footprints in the parties’ financial records (bank statements, credit card statements) which may show the purchase of virtual currencies when there has been no production of any statement reflecting virtual currency holdings or transactions required by Rule 12.285.       
By: Bernice Bird, Esq.

With the resignation of Justice Breyer in June, at the end of the Supreme Court’s term, there is speculation as to who President Biden will appoint on the bench.

However, one thing is for certain: President Biden will appoint a Black woman.

His top picks are jurists from throughout the country, namely, Ketanji Brown Jackson, federal judge sitting on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit; Leondra Kruger, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of California; and J. Michelle Childs, federal judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. Any one of these nominees would be the third Black person to sit on the Supreme Court bench, after Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas; the fifth woman after Elena Kagan, Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor; and, of course, the first Black woman.

To put it in perspective, we have seen 114 justices on the High Court since 1789. It has taken 233 years to arrive at this moment, this opportunity to create a more diverse and inclusive bench. But, despite the wait, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has advised that it will with “all deliberate speed” hold a hearing after President Biden makes his pick, which could happen even before Justice Breyer’s resignation. And so, we wait, just a little bit longer, for this historic moment.
Lauren Alperstein has proudly serves on the Family Law Section’s Executive Council and is a member of the Legislation Committee, Ad Hoc Guardian ad Litem Committee, Rules and Forms Committee, and the Continuing Legal Education Committee. Lauren has been actively engaged with the Section for many years and has been an invaluable member in progressing the Section’s standing positions.  Lauren has also helped the Sections’ practitioners navigate the growing trend of solicitation letters having recently co-authored Solicitation Letters in Family Law Cases: Attorney Beware in Issue No. 4 of the 2021 Florida Bar Family Law Section Commentator. 
 
Lauren attended law school at the University of Florida and has been selected as a Rising Star in Marital & Family Law by Super Lawyers. Lauren has also been awarded with the Attorney of the Year award by the Legal Aid Service of Broward County and Coast to Coast Legal Services for Lauren’s assistance in heling some of the most disadvantaged members of her community, the Community Service Award by the Goodman Jewish Family Services, Lawyer of the Month by Broward Lawyers Care, Distinguished Volunteer Award by the Jewish Federation of Broward County and the Leadership Award by the David Posnak Jewish Community Center. 
 
Lauren’s dedication to her community is a strong motivating factor for her current run for Broward County Circuit Court Judge.  
 
I love being able to collaborate with lawyers from across the State and work on issues for the betterment of Florida’s families. Lauren considers this the most beneficial reason to become involved with the Section. Not only does Lauren find Section involvement to be a great networking opportunity but has also formed lifelong friendships and appreciates the opportunities to bounce ideas off of some of the most well respected lawyers in the state. Some of Lauren’s closest friends to date have been friends she has made through work with the Section.
 
Words of wisdom that Lauren imparts to other Section members includes to Be Kind. This profession and area of law we are in is very stressful. She believes that sometimes we lose sight of why we became lawyers – and lawyers practicing family law and suggests checking in one another and continuing to be kind to each other. As she so wisely provides, we are one big family trying to help other families navigate unchartered waters during a trying time in their lives.
 
Advice to attorneys just beginning to navigate the family law realm: get involved! Lauren got involved right after she passed the Bar and was nervous since it felt like she was a little fish swimming in a big pond. But, she was embraced by colleagues who she admires and respects to this day. Lauren describes how these colleagues helped further her career and advanced her involvement in the Section. There’s always room for someone to get involved. Don’t forget to use your voice and speak up!
We are so grateful to our Section sponsors! Thank you for your ongoing support of our members and mission.

If your business would like to reach nearly 4,000 Family Law professionals through our various communications platforms and in-person and virtual events, we invite you to consider Section sponsorship. To learn more about benefits and levels, email sponsorship@familylawfla.org or click HERE to learn more.
If you have a topic of interest regarding Family Law and you'd like to submit an article for our monthly e-Newsletter, FAMSEG, or our quarterly publication, The Commentator, email publications@familylawfla.org for more information. Thank you for your interest in contributing to our member publications!