Need a Family Law Attorney?

Family law covers any rules, regulations, or court happenings that involve family life.

If you’re considering a divorce, fighting a child custody dispute, establishing guardianship over an elderly relative, or needing a previous spousal support order changed, you’ll need someone on your side to help you negotiate the Florida courts and to protect your rights.

Even if you think that something might happen, or that you might need an attorney, it’s better to have that sooner rather than later. You don’t want to blindsided by something that you were unprepared for or make unnecessary mistakes because you didn’t know the ins and outs of the law. It’s never too late to hire a good lawyer to make a complicated, difficult situation better for you and for your family.

Hale and Messina has decades of experience on their side, which they’ll use to fight for your family. We can handle any of the situations you’ll find below. When you’re ready to talk, give us a call or send us an email to set up your free consultation.


Florida is a “no-fault” divorce state, which means that no one has to prove anything about the reasons behind the divorce. Either party in the divorce can file for divorce, as long as at least one has been a Florida resident for at least six months. The divorce begins with a petition that says that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” and lays out what the petitioner (or the person who is filing) wants from the court. Once served with this petition, the other spouse will have the opportunity to file an Answer, which responds to the requests of the petition.  Some spouses will agree on nearly everything, which makes ending a marriage much easier. If spouses do agree on things like property, custody, child support, and spousal support, they submit an agreement to the court and the divorce can be finalized in a few weeks.

Uncontested or Simplified Divorce

When certain criteria are met, a marriage can be dissolved far more simply using less paperwork, fewer court dates, and far less time. In Florida, this type of divorce is called a simplified dissolution of marriage. In order to qualify for this type of divorce, couples have to be married a short time, have no children, have no significant property (i.e. no house and less than $35,000 not including cars), and agree on no spousal support.

Child Custody

If parents cannot agree on a custody agreement, a judge will create a custody arrangement. Florida courts can consider any situations or factors that influence this decision, especially those that might affect the child’s health and safety.

The judge is likely to ask the following questions:

  • Which parent is more likely to take good care of the daily needs of the child, including physical, emotional, developmental, and educational issues?
  • Which parent is more likely to create and keep a loving, stable, and consistently nurturing  relationship?
  • Which parent will encourage a relationship between the child(ren) and the other parent, including frequent, meaningful contact?

The judge can also consider what the child prefers if s/he is old enough, any relationships that have been built between siblings, and how the child’s entire life will be affected by a change in custody. A history of drug or alcohol abuse, record of abuse, or criminal past for either of the parents can also be considered.


When a mother gives birth and is married in Florida, the state assumes that the spouse is the father of that child. If the mother is unmarried at the time of that birth, the paternity of that child has to be officially decided. That can happen either voluntarily, by signing a form and submitting it to the court, or by court order. That legal process can be started by the mother, the man who believes he is the father, the child through a lawyer, or the Florida Department of Child Support Services.

In many cases, paternity is established first in order to help a mother or father with a number of other legal orders, including child support and child custody.

Spousal and Child Support

Child support and spousal support are not the same, but are often concerns of anyone going through a divorce. Spousal support is another name for alimony, which is financial support given to one spouse after the divorce to help cover the obligations of that ex-spouse. Child support is money paid by one spouse to the other to help with the costs of raising children.

In Florida, child support is based on the incomes of both parents. Alimony, however, is more complicated to predict because the court takes a number of factors under consideration.

Domestic Violence

Victims of domestic violence may need to file a protective order against an abuser. A protective order is an official court document that orders a person to stop doing certain things, like coming near or contacting the victim. In Florida, victims can issue four types of protective orders.

  1. Domestic Violence: These types of orders can be issued when someone in a specific relationship with the victim commits assault, battery, stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any other crime that caused injury or death.
  2. Repeat Violence: When someone has experienced two instances of the violence above within six months, a protective order that falls under repeat violence can be issued. In this case, the relationship doesn’t matter.
  3. Dating Violence: In order for this type of protective order to be issued, violence must have happened between people in a “continuing and significant” romantic relationship. Continuing and significant means that they’ve been in a romantic relationship within the last six months and that relationship had to last for a continuing period of time.
  4. Sexual Violence: Any sexual crime that includes sexual battery, sexual activity related to children, or any forcible felony that involves sexual acts qualifies for a protective order in this category. It doesn’t matter if the person was charged with a crime or if the crime has been dismissed or reduced.


When you want to manage the day-to-day life of someone who can’t do that for themselves, you want to become that person’s guardian. A guardian must be over the age of 18 and a Florida resident or a person who is not a resident of Florida but is in a direct family relationship with the person in question.

In order to file for guardianship, you need to file documents and have the court establish that the person cannot take care of him- or herself. The process can be long, and does have requirements that the proposed guardian has to meet.

Post-Judgment Modifications

Once a divorce has been finalized, the court orders establish the terms of things like child custody, child support, and spousal support (alimony). When circumstances change, these court orders may need to be changed as well.

These types of changes may include:

  • Relocation of one parent to another state
  • Remarriage or change in living situation for one parent
  • Change of employment of one parent
  • Change in the needs of a child, especially when a child develops special needs
  • Interference of one parent’s relationship with the child(ren) by the other parent
  • Deterioration of one person’s mental or physical condition (i.e. due to alcohol and drug abuse)
  • Conviction of a crime

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