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Florida Divorce with Pets

Deciding Pet Custody in Florida Divorce Cases

For divorcing couples with pets, one of the biggest issues that must be resolved is who gets to keep them. The idea of parting ways with one’s furry friend can be hard to bear, yet it is likely to be a reality for one of the divorcing parties. Though many owners may think of their pets as children, they aren’t considered as such in divorce court. Instead, pets are considered personal property.

Determining Ownership

While Florida’s laws governing child custody provide the courts with extensive discretionary authority, the laws concerning who keeps pets are more concrete. Decisions regarding ownership of pets are governed by personal property laws. Therefore, options like shared custody and visitation are not available for pets. Owners who wish to agree on such terms will need to work with their counsel to come to a legally binding agreement.

If a pet was purchased or adopted by one individual prior to the marriage, particularly one that is still listed as the owner on legal documents, the pet will be considered a non-marital asset. Therefore, the original owner will be permitted to keep the pet. However, if a pet was purchased jointly after marriage, it is considered marital property and will be subject to equitable distribution.

Factors That Judges Consider

The process for deciding pet custody in a Florida divorce is the same as with determining how to distribute other possessions. The judge will entertain arguments from each party as to who should retain ownership of the pet, and then make a final decision. This decision will be based on a number of factors, including some which are similar to those in child custody cases. Though pets are viewed as property in divorce proceedings, it is still important to keep the animal’s interests in mind and determine which individual is best able to care for it.

If you have questions regarding divorce in Florida, our skilled attorneys are always just a call away. Contact our office to schedule a free, no-commitment consultation.

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Expungement or Sealing Juvenile Record in Florida

Expungement or Sealing Juvenile Record in Florida

The idea that one event or mistake made in youth can have lasting negative consequences on one’s adult life is a frightening prospect. That is the situation minors face when they are arrested and charged for a criminal offense. An experienced Miami juvenile defense attorney can defend minors’ rights in court and ensure the best possible outcome.

Still, some will be left with a juvenile record that could be an obstacle to their educational and professional futures. Fortunately, in certain cases, a juvenile record in Florida can be sealed or expunged.

Eligibility for Expungement or Sealing

In Florida, a juvenile record is automatically eligible for expungement or sealing when the offender turns 24 years old or, for a serious or habitual offender, 26 years old. However, typical offenders can try to get their juvenile record sealed or expunged at an earlier age.

Minors that were arrested for nonviolent offenses and/or completed a court-ordered diversion program can petition for expungement or sealing of their juvenile record. This petition can only be done once to clear the record of only one arrest. Most juvenile records are eligible unless the offender fits the following characteristics.

      • found guilty or adjudicated delinquent for the offenses on the juvenile record they wish to seal
      • found guilty or adjudicated delinquent for serious criminal offenses, especially violent and sex crime offenses
      • previously had a criminal record sealed or expunged
      • concurrently filed another petition for expungement or sealing

Procedure

In order to seal or expunge a juvenile record in Florida, offenders must first apply for a Certificate of Eligibility for Sealing. Only once they receive this certificate can they petition the juvenile court that handled their case for expungement or sealing of their record. Trying to have a juvenile record cleared is often a complex process and, in such cases, the guidance of an experienced Miami juvenile defense attorney is incredibly valuable.

If you were arrested or charged with a criminal offense as a minor, the attorneys at Pimentel & Castillo can guide you every step of the way toward achieving a expungement or sealing of your juvenile record in Florida. Once your juvenile is record cleared, you will not have to reveal your juvenile offenses to most people and employers, eliminating significant obstacles to your future educational and professional endeavors.

Call us to request a free consultation with a seasoned Miami juvenile defense attorney today.

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Is Teen Sexting a Crime in Florida?

Is Teen Sexting a Crime in Florida?

The answer is yes, sexting between two minors is considered a crime in Florida. In 2011, the Florida legislature passed a law that specifically pertained to teen sexting. Children and teenagers under the age of 18 should have some understanding of this law and the penalties for violating it.

Prior to this law, minors caught sexting would be charged according to more severe Florida child pornography laws. While this is no longer the case, the consequences for minors who violate the current law can still be harsh with long-lasting effects for the offender. If a you are a parent or guardian of a minor cited for a sexting violation, seeking the legal counsel of an experienced Miami juvenile defense attorney is recommended.

What is Sexting and Teen Sexting?

Sexting is defined as people sharing nude or sexually explicit messages, typically photos or videos, through the use of electronic communication channels and devices such cell phones, the Internet, social media, and so on. Teen sexting occurs when the above behavior happens between two minors and the messages in question depict minors.

Under Florida sexting law, sexting between two consenting adults is not a criminal activity. However, teen sexting is considered a criminal offense. Minors commit the crime of sexting when they knowingly distribute, receive, possess, or create a nude or sexually explicit image or video of another minor.

If a minor receives an image or video depicting a minor in situations of nudity or sexual conduct, but they (i) did not solicit the image, (ii) did not distribute the image to another party, and (iii) took steps to report the image to a parent, guardian, school official, or law enforcement official, they are unlikely to be charged with violating the Florida sexting law.

What are the Penalties of Teen Sexting?

The consequences minors may face because of sexting vary in severity and depend on the specific circumstances of each case. Generally, punishments get harsher the more offenses a minor is charged with. Any images or videos transmitted or received within a 24 hour period are counted as one offense.

      • First Offense — Minor charged with non-criminal violation, could face a $60 fine, 8 hours of community service, and/or mandatory classes on the dangers of sexting.
      • Second Offense — Minor charged with first degree misdemeanor, could be faced with steeper fines, probation, and/or placement in a juvenile detention center.
      • Third Offense — Minor charged with third degree felony, could face a prison sentence of up to 15 years and may be required to register as a sex offender.

To learn more about the Florida sexting law and Florida child pornography laws as they pertain to juvenile defendants, speak with a seasoned Miami juvenile defense attorney. The attorneys at Pimentel & Castillo are experienced at defending juveniles from criminal charges, including sexting violations. If you are a parent or guardian of a minor that is facing teen sexting charges, call us today for a free consultation.

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Florida is a Surrogacy-Friendly State

Florida is a Surrogacy-Friendly State

Surrogacy has become an increasingly popular option for those struggling to conceive or carry a child. Even though entering into a surrogacy agreement is illegal in some states, that is not the case in Florida. In fact, Florida surrogacy laws are some of the least restrictive in the country. Nonetheless, surrogacy law is complex and a qualified Miami surrogacy attorney can guide clients through the surrogacy process.

Two Legal Surrogacy Agreements

Under Florida surrogacy laws both forms of surrogacies are allowed, gestational surrogacy and traditional surrogacy. Florida statute 742.15 governs Gestational Surrogacy Agreements, while statute 62.213 governs Pre-Planned Adoption Agreements, also called Traditional Surrogacy Agreements. Intended parents, legally referred to as the “commissioning couple,” can enter either of these agreements.

    • Gestational Surrogacy Agreement (GSA)

Pregnancy is created through in vitro fertilization, at least one of the intended parents must contribute genetic material, and the surrogate is prohibited from donating her own egg. Permitted combinations include:

    • egg and sperm from the intended parents
    • egg from intended mother and sperm from separate donor
    • sperm from intended father and egg from separate donor

To enter this type of agreement, the commissioning couple must establish the health risks, confirmed by a physician’s diagnosis, that prevent the intended mother from carrying the child herself.

    • Traditional Surrogacy Agreement (TSA)

Traditional surrogacy is significantly less popular than gestational due to legal issues. In this type of agreement, the surrogate can donate her own egg to create the pregnancy. The egg is fertilized with the intended father’s sperm, inside the surrogate’s uterus. Therefore, the child is biologically connected to the surrogate.

Parental Rights in Surrogacy Agreements

As dictated by Florida surrogacy laws, a written contract needs to be signed for either type of surrogacy agreement. An experienced Miami surrogacy attorney can help commissioning couples draft these contracts. However, the assignment of parental rights may depend on whether the surrogacy was gestational or traditional.

Gestational Surrogacy — The surrogate is not biologically connected to the child and therefore has no legal parental right to the child after giving birth. She relinquishes away any and all of her parental rights when signing the contract. The commissioning couple automatically has the parental and custodial rights of the child after the birth.

Traditional Surrogacy — Since the surrogate has a biological connection with the child, the assignment of parental and custody can become complicated. She may consent in the contract to give up her parental rights, but she has the right to rescind her consent and terminate the contract within 48 hours of the birth of the child. In which case, the legal counsel of a Miami surrogacy attorney becomes necessary for the commissioning couple.

The assistance of a seasoned Miami surrogacy attorney is beneficial for those who want to enter a surrogacy agreement, whether you are an intended parent or the surrogate. At Pimentel & Castillo, we are committed to make the process as smooth as possible for our every client. If legal drawbacks do occur, we are skilled at defending our client’s rights in court. Call us today for a free consultation.

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When to Update a Florida Parenting Plan

When to Update a Florida Parenting Plan

According to Florida family law, parents in a divorce case are encouraged to develop and agree to a parenting plan. The parenting plan is a legally-binding agreement that must be approved by the court. If they are unable to agree to a parenting plan, the court will intervene and decide what parenting plan is in the best interest of the child. However, after some time, a parenting plan can prove to be ineffective or outdated and may need to be modified.

Parenting plan modifications must also be approved by a Florida family court. The process of modifying a Florida parenting plan can be complex, so it is best to consult with a seasoned Miami family law attorney when petitioning the court for a modification.

Events That May Trigger Parenting Plan Modifications

There are a variety of reasons for wanting to modify a parenting plan. Any revisions and modifications one wishes to make to a Florida parenting plan must be based on the child’s best interest. Still, some life events and/or changes in the child’s needs may prompt a parenting plan modification. These changes may concern financial support calculations, visitation schedules, time-sharing arrangements, and even custody arrangements.

      • Remarriage Especially if it involves relocation or step-children.
      • Relocation Especially if the new distance between the parents’ households is significant.
      • Maturation of the child Especially if the current plan is no longer age-appropriate.
      • Changes in the child’s schools or school schedules
      • Changes in jobs Especially if it involves relocation, significant changes in income, or unemployment.
      • Negative effects of current Florida parenting plan on the child’s development
      • Unfit parenting status Especially if it concerns recent domestic violence charges.

What Florida Family Court Considers

Just like in child custody cases, the Florida family court will make a decision it believes to be in the child’s best interest. After one or both parents files a petition for modifying the parenting plan to the court, there will be a hearing to determine if there is just cause for a modification. The court will judge the severity of the major life changes cited as the reasons for the requested parenting plan modification. One parent or both parents have to prove to the court that the current plan no longer meets the child’s needs.

Not all modifications are approved by the Florida family court. Working with an experienced Miami family law attorney can increase your chances of successfully modifying your Florida parenting plan.

The Florida family law professionals at Pimentel & Castillo can provide the right legal guidance and assist in petitioning the court on your behalf. Call us today for a free consolation.

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What Does the Florida Court Consider When Deciding Child Custody?

What Does the Florida Court Consider When Deciding Child Custody?

Florida courts have wide discretionary authority when it comes to deciding Florida child custody in divorce cases, but they are most concerned with making a decision that will be in the “best interests of the child.” Essentially, this means the judge’s decisions on how custody rights and parental responsibilities will be divided are always tailored to fit the unique needs of the child.

An experienced Miami child custody attorney can address clients’ Florida child custody litigation needs and defend their parental and custody rights, so that the final custody arrangement will be favorable for both the child and parent.

In general, Florida family law upholds that children generally benefit from maintaining frequent contact and interaction with both parents and favors custody arrangements that accommodate this. The following are the best interest factors Florida courts most often consider before making a custody ruling in a divorce case.

Health, Safety, and Ethics

When deciding on a custody arrangement that will be in the best interests of the child, Florida courts consider the child’s health, safety, and moral development when determining best interest factors. A judge will review a parent’s behavior and the home environment thoroughly to uncover any elements that could disrupt the normal mental and physical development of the child. If there is evidence of domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, or abandonment, a parent or both parents could lose their custody and visitation rights. Additionally, to protect a child’s ethical development, a judge may consider a parent’s mental and physical state based on circumstances such as adulterous relationships prior to the divorce, frequent causal relationships with multiple partners, verbal abuse, substance abuse, and illegal activities.

Emotional and Developmental Needs

Other major best interest factors that are emphasized by Florida family law concern the emotional and developmental needs of a child especially concerning their general welfare, familial connections, education, and healthcare. These factors include:

    • Ability and willingness to be involved in their child’s life
    • Demonstrated ability to meet their child’s developmental needs
    • Love, affection, and existing relationship with their child
    • Awareness and participation in their child’s daily school and extracurricular activities
    • Familiarity with their child’s social circles and preferences
    • Home situation and the extent of its stability and permanence
    • Willingness to cooperate with other parent and honor time-sharing schedules

After reviewing all appropriate best interest factors, detailed in Florida Statute 61.13, a judge has the information needed to decide custody arrangements. In some instances, that decision may involve granting custody to a legal guardian. Sometimes, when a child is older and mature enough, a judge may allow the child to voice their custody preferences.

Florida family law, especially concerning child custody litigation, can be very complex. Call Pimentel & Castillo to have an experienced Miami child custody attorney represent you in a divorce case and defend your parental and custody rights.

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Adopting a Child With Birth Siblings

Adopting a Child With Birth Siblings

When one makes the decision to adopt a child who has birth siblings, it is understandable that there may be some added complexities. Even when a child does not have birth siblings at the time of the adoption, there is always the chance that his birth mother will go on to have other children. Navigating the situation can be difficult for the adoptive parents, as well as the children involved. Thus, it is important to not only know what the law says about sibling interactions, but consult with an experienced Miami family lawyer who has experience with adoptions involving these circumstances.

Laws Governing Sibling Relationships

It should serve as no surprise that keeping sibling relationships intact is typically (though not always) beneficial to the children involved. With that in mind, the courts have established some legal guidelines for these all important relationships. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 was the first piece of legislation that addressed this topic on a Federal level. It outlines the importance of keeping siblings in the same foster home whenever doing so is feasible. When this is not an option, the law requires that frequent visitations occur, permitted this would not be to the detriment of the children.

The issue of post-adoptive requirements of parents of adopted children with birth siblings is ultimately left up to the states. To date, Florida’s legislation only addresses adoptions completed by relatives, such as a grandparent. One of these is Statute 63.022, which seeks to keep siblings together whenever possible, whether it be in a foster home or an adoption. Another piece of legislation (63.0427) details the need for continued communication with birth siblings whenever the court deems appropriate. Both of these statutes come with quite a bit of gray area. Thus, the courts must consider the specifics of each unique case before determining what is best for the child.

If you are interested in welcoming a child into your home through adoption, selecting the right Miami family lawyer is of the utmost importance. Our office offers free consultations, and we would love to meet with you to discuss your unique situation. Give us a call today to schedule a meeting with one of our skilled attorneys.

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Foster Care Adoption Basics

Foster Care Adoption Basics

More than 100,000 children are in the U.S. foster care system waiting to be adopted. Each year, thousands turn 18 years old and leave the system without adoptive families. There are many misconceptions of foster care adoption that prevent potential South Florida adoptive families from taking action. A Miami adoption attorney can help guide families through the foster care adoption system and all the legal processes it entails. With such guidance and the basic information provided below, those who want to adopt will have no reason to shun foster care adoption.

The General Process Involved

The foster care adoption process, just like other types of adoption, cannot begin in earnest until the termination of parental rights is completed. The child’s birthparents’ parental rights must be legally terminated voluntarily or involuntarily by a court of competent jurisdiction. After the termination of parental rights, the child is legally considered free for adoption. This undertaking and further legal steps to adoption are complex procedures, plus adoptive families must meet inquiry, orientation, preparation classes, and home study requirements. Therefore, adopting through foster care lasts, on average, nine to 18 months. A Miami adoption attorney can guide adoptive families through this process with ease.

Cost of Foster Care Adoption

A very common misconception of adopting through the foster care system is that it is very expensive. The truth is that adopting a foster child costs from $0 to $1,500 on average. Typically, adopting directly from a public agency is free, while those who adopt through a private agency usually end up with out-of-pocket expenses. Often, those who adopt foster children have access to federal and state tax credits, adoption subsidies (specifically for “special needs” children), and other types of financial aid to support their adopted children until they reach adulthood.

Special Needs Children

“Special needs” is often used to describe children in the U.S. foster care system. Sometimes it deters potential adoptive families who do not know what the term means and are wary of its implications. Each state has its own definition, but generally a foster child is labeled as “special needs” when he/she has certain characteristics that may make him/her less attractive for adoption in the eyes of typical adoptive parents. In most instances, this term is used to describe older children (aged 5 and up), as well as children with one or more ongoing physical, mental, or emotional health issues. This designation can also be attributed to children that are members of a sibling group, as the siblings typically must be adopted together.

Single Adoptive Parents

In this article, the term “adoptive families” has been used liberally. However, it is important to note that the term (in this case), is used to describe families headed by two parents as well as families headed by a single parent. In all 50 states, unmarried single individuals are allowed to legally adopt through the U.S. foster care system. In fact, a significant portion of children adopted from foster care were adopted by single parents.

If you are considering adopting a child from foster care, call a Miami adoption attorney today. Our family law experts at Pimentel & Castillo are experienced at assisting South Florida adoptive families navigate the complex legal process, from termination of parental rights to final adoption.

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Custody Battle Dos and Don’ts

Custody Battle Dos and Don’ts

Custody battles are often mentally straining and stressful for the parents involved. The majority of parents do not enter into custody litigation proceedings unless they have come to the conclusion that having primary custody of their children is truly the best option.

An experienced Miami divorce attorney knows how to familiarize their clients with Florida family law and guide them through Florida custody litigation. The following are some dos and don’ts parents should follow to win a custody battle.

Do Act Properly in Court

In child custody battles, perception is always a determining factor. Both sides are able to present their opinions about their ex-spouses and their childrearing capabilities, but it is up to the judge to decide whether to believe or put value on those evaluations. For starters, judges will take into consideration the involvement of both parents in the custody hearings. Litigants should physically show up to court on time. They must look presentable by wearing attire appropriate for the courtroom. They must follow courtroom etiquette by being respectful to the judge and opposing party and not showing anger or using fowl language.

Do Ask Questions

Litigants invite additional unnecessary stress and anxiety by refusing to voice out their concerns. If parents do not understand something about the custody litigation process, they should not hesitate to ask for clarification from their attorneys and the court. They are entitled to voicing their concerns and getting clear answers.

Do Cooperate With Ex-Spouse

Divorcing parents going through custody litigation often have severely strained relationships, but to win a custody battle, parents must show the court a genuine willingness to work and get along with their exes for the benefit of children. Courts are more likely to rule in favor of cooperative parents over those who refuse to speak and collaborate with their exes.

Don’t Lie

Parents who are dishonest with the court by making unfounded allegations against their exes or exaggerating their exes’ shortcomings are doing themselves a disservice. It might seem like an effective way to improve their standing as parents in the eyes of the court. However, if those accusations or embellishments of the facts are discovered, their credibility will diminish and so will their chances of winning custody.

Don’t Coach Children

There is a point in the custody litigation process when the children of the litigants get interviewed by a custody expert and sometimes the court. In a custody evaluation, children are able to voice their opinions on the family dynamic and the reasons that led to their parents’ separation or divorce. Parents can inform their children about the interview and give them a general idea of what to expect to alleviate any confusion or fear. However, parents should not prepare their children for the interview, tell them what to say, or encourage them to talk negatively about their other parent. A custody expert will easily spot a child who has been coached, and it will reflect badly on the guilty parent.

Don’t Violate Orders

One of the easiest ways to get on the court’s bad side is by failing to follow a judge’s court orders. Parents must make strong efforts to comply with the judge’s requests, especially if those requests are binding and enforceable orders. Whether it concerns allowing communication and visitation between children and noncustodial parent or a myriad of other things. Litigants must always respect the court’s decisions or risk losing custody.

Florida custody litigation is a lengthy and complex process. If you are in need of legal assistance regarding divorce and child custody, talk with one of the Florida family law experts at Pimentel & Castillo. Call us to speak with a premiere Miami divorce attorney today.

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4 Benefits of Joint Physical Custody

4 Benefits of Joint Physical Custody

While having joint legal custody brings its own advantages, joint physical custody where each spouse has equal time with their children can be beneficial for both parents and children. Consult with a Miami divorce attorney to learn more about the custody options available because some divorce cases might only allow for joint legal custody. For divorce cases that can accommodate joint physical custody, here are some benefits to consider.

1. Children Live in Both Households

With joint physical custody, children are able to live with both parents for equal or almost equal amounts of time. This arrangement forges strong and healthy relationships with both their parents and allows children to stay connected with their extended families from both sides. Living with both parents reduces the fear of losing a parent as well as the feelings of rejection, loss, and conflict of loyalty some children experience after a divorce.

2. Discipline is a Team Effort

Since both parents get equal parenting time with their children, there is an opportunity for them to collaborate in creating house rules and enforcing consequences. With joint physical custody, both parents will be equally responsible for their children’s discipline. One parent will not be pitted against the other parent, one being the “disciplinarian parent” and the other being the “fun, part-time parent.” If both parents work together, a continuity in household rules can be established, providing consistency in children’s daily routines, as well as responsibilities.

3. Routine Schedules Good For Parents

Both parents will have to agree on a joint custody schedule that determines how parenting time will be divided between them. This schedule provides a set and predictable routine that both parents follow and can plan around. By knowing when their children will and will not be at their house, each parent can schedule their activities accordingly. Plan for family-centered activities during parenting time and plan for work activities, time with friends, or “me” time when the kids are not around.

4. Share Daily Costs of Raising Children

Costs for after school activities, toys, and school supplies might seem small, but they sure add up. But when parenting time is shared, both parents naturally end up sharing costs on these everyday items and expenses. On the other hand, large expenses should be handled according to the parental agreement.

If you are considering divorce, consult with an experienced Miami divorce attorney at Pimentel & Castillo to learn more about the process as well as custody options. Call our family law professionals today.