In this fourth episode of Women Winning Divorce, Florida Women's Law Group CEO, owner and attorney, Heather Quick talks about child support. She answers questions about how child support is determined, whether child support can be modified, if there are penalties for not paying, what happens if a special needs child is involved and whether grandparents have rights.
"Women Winning Divorce" is a radio show and podcast hosted by Heather Quick, CEO and Owner of Florida Women's Law Group. Each week we focus on different aspects of family law to help guide women through the difficult and emotional legal challenges they are facing. Heather brings over 20 years of law experience that advocates and empowers women to achieve happier and healthier lives. Join Heather each week as she discusses family law issues including divorce, custody, alimony, paternity, narcissism, mediation and more.
This program was created to provide tips and insight to women with family law issues. It is not intended to be legal advice because every situation is different.
Visit us at https://www.womenwinningdivorce.com/ for more resources.
Text us at 904-944-6800 for a copy of Heather's Top 5 Divorce Tips.
If you have questions or a topic you would like Heather to cover, email us at email@example.com
Julie Morgan: Welcome to Women Winning Divorce, with your host, Heather Quick. Heather brings over 20 years of law experience that advocates and empowers women to achieve happier and healthier lives. Each week, we provide knowledge and guidance on different aspects of family law, to help lead women through the difficult and emotional legal challenges that they're facing. Listen in as she discusses issues, including divorce, custody, alimony, paternity, narcissism, mediation, and other family law issues to provide insight on the journey of women winning divorce. Welcome to the show, I'm Julie Morgan, and I'm joined by your host Heather Quick. Heather, how you doing today?
Heather Quick: I'm great. How are you?
Julie Morgan: I'm doing just fine. Today's topic, child support.
Heather Quick: Ah, good one.
Julie Morgan: It is a good one. They're all good. Yes. This is an obvious question, but what is child support?
Heather Quick: Child support is really created out of the laws and it is a formula that determines how much really each parent is to contribute to the support of the child. Then depending on lots of various factors, you come up with an amount. It can be manipulated some, there are many factors that can go into it, but overall, this is what the law says, "Hey, this is your legal requirement, in a divorce or a paternity action that you have to pay for your child."
Julie Morgan: You know, I was thinking that the number is just determined based on the person that has to pay, that does not have the physical custody of the child, but it's determined by both, using both-
Heather Quick: There are a lot of things, we can get into that, but right, there are so many things that go into that formula that impact the ultimate number.
Julie Morgan: Okay. I don't know why I thought it was one-sided, which doesn't make sense, but there you go. That's knowledge for you.
Heather Quick: Well, the people paying it feel like it's one-sided, but it's not one-sided. It really takes in many factors.
Julie Morgan: Many factors. What cost does it cover?
Heather Quick: Well, depending on your children, meaning their ages and things like that, I think you'll be lucky if it covers the grocery bill, if you ask my opinion. It is essentially what you need for your child. If it's the light bill, if it goes towards the mortgage, yeah, that's all required. Nobody is going to say, "This is what you use it for." This is just the other parent's contribution to the child's care, and usually, based on everything for most people, it doesn't cover a whole lot, when the other parent's like, "Well, I pay child support, tell your mom to buy you the tennis shoes."
Well, we also have to buy food and clothes and housing, and so many things. I don't think that, and this is my opinion, and as we know, if you aren't aware, I don't make the laws, which I know a lot of people will be very happy about, but my clients would like that, I'm sure, but I don't think it's kept up with just the cost of raising children, and inflation, and food. I mean, my goodness, you've been to the grocery store lately and these kids, if they have activities, just gas, just everything. It is a huge expense. Children are expensive.
Julie Morgan: You answered my question before I even asked it. I was going to ask you, can you get more due to inflation?
Heather Quick: No, that is not what determines it. It is strictly a formula. There's a lot of different software out there that we use to determine it in Florida. You can make a case, you have to make that to the judge, to increase that number, but there's not an automatic. I really don't know the last time they evaluated those rules and that formula, it really ends up being a rather low number.
Julie Morgan: Do you believe that this formula should be updated for things like that?
Heather Quick: I absolutely do, and we'll get into that, but we might just get into it now. I can't even remember how many years ago when this first started, that it's the overnights that really dictate the percentage of support. Even if two parents make the same money, how much time, when we talked about time-share, one parent has over the other, that alters it. Once you hit 40% of the time, that number drastically goes down. Therefore, if you're taking a cynical approach, like I have been known to do, I would say they want the time to pay less money. Men who really do want the time and are like, "No, I will still pay the full amount." They do that, and they show up and do that, but that is a smaller percentage.
In theory the law is, if you have them 40% of the time or 50% of the time, as the other parent you should be, I mean, you still have to house them, feed them, and you should clothe them, and take care of the expenses when they are with you during that time. That doesn't always happen in reality, from a perspective of, "Oh no, get your mom to pay for those clothes," or, "I'm not buying you clothes, I pay child support when you're here, have them bring this stuff." Some people can just be so petty, and that unfortunately, they've lost sight of what's right for their child.
Julie Morgan: So the child support, it could cover things like their education, anything medical, extracurricular activities. Can that be put into the divorce agreement for child support on top of anything else?
Heather Quick: Usually, no, that is set and that can be problematic, but it is what it is. I'll use this as an example, dad, based on the incomes, is responsible for 70% of what this formula says it takes for this child support. We then look at that percentage, now uncovered medical, because one of the parents is going to have medical insurance on the children, ideally. That gets factored into the child support calculation. Then of course, we have copays. We have prescriptions. Sometimes there are things for children that aren't covered by insurance, like braces. That is on a percentage based on what we call the share of support. If it was a 70/30, that means that one parent has to pay 70% of that out-of-pocket. The other has to pay 30%.
You have two or three kids and they're going through a lot of expenses, it's an accounting thing, you have to really stay on it, and either get the reimbursement or the initial pay for it.With extracurriculars, usually, and that is if it's not agreed upon standard, generally, the court's going to say, they will pay 50/50 out-of-pocket, on agreed upon, extracurriculars. This can be a whole issue too, because you look at these kids' sports. I'll just give you dance for one example. They want to take all these classes, it’s wonderful. Then recital time, it's a big chunk of change, and if one parent doesn't want to pay, they'll say, "Well, I didn't agree to that." Which is again, losing sight of what your child does.
Some children have been involved in sports and activities, expensive ones, forever, and then the parent, all of a sudden is like, "No, I'm not going to pay for your travel soccer, your travel lacrosse, and this club stuff." It's really ugly because there's that agreement part, but yes, they are supposed to continue to share in those expensive. That is above and beyond child support. That is not what child support covers.
Julie Morgan: So child support really is the normal everyday needs; food, clothing, shelter, everything else would be extra.
Heather Quick: Yes, it really is. When I say, depending on the numbers, like I was explaining, we've been to the grocery store, and it's like, "Wow," and especially if you're cooking and want to eat healthy, as we all know, it costs more to buy fresh food and all that. I would say in age, I mean, when these kids go through a growth spurt, now my son is not quite a teenager, but boy, I used to have my daughters as teenagers, their friends would come over. I was shocked by how much they could eat; all these skinny little girls, and man, they can put away some food. Because they're growing, their metabolism is what I wish mine was still at.
Julie Morgan: I think about this and I'm just sitting here laughing at you. I'm not going to even go there, but I'm thinking about this, and everything that you said, I'm thinking, "But how is that supporting the child?" Because think about the words, it's child support and it's everything, at least in my mind, it's everything, but really it's really not.
Heather Quick: It's really not, and that's just the reality. Like I said, things add up so much. I can speak on this, from the perspective of course, knowing what the numbers end up for our clients, but just raising children ourselves, and think about they have a birthday party. Okay, well you got to give the kid a gift or a gift card, and 20 bucks here, 20 bucks there. I mean, it adds up, and we're not even talking about clothes, and once they get into that, what kids are wearing; it is a lot. You want to believe parents are doing the best they can, I think when we talk about the money, is when you know so many, and I'll just say men, because I represent women, they just get bitter, and they think that the mom is using this to get more.
If you really look at, shoot, even putting money in their lunch account, and my son, I think he buys lunch for everybody, because I'm like, "How do you spend all this money, and we make your lunch every day? I don't know." He's like Mr. Big, "Oh, he needs a Gatorade," I don't know, but there's just a lot. Like, oh the yearbook, oh, they need a lab fee. Even stuff that's just purely academic, even at just a public school. I'm not even talking private, there's things, field trips. Well, they haven't been doing field trips, I guess, that much anymore. But when they do, or class party and teachers' things, there's so much, and it's a shame when I see that there's this bickering over that, or there's not the reimbursement and it is a lot.
There's a period of time, I think, when the kids are little and there's daycare, and that's very expensive in childcare, before they go to school. Then they go to school, but then in aftercare, stuff may not be as expensive, but then there's so many other things that come into play; their activities, the logistics of getting them places. Then they start growing faster and the cell phone. I mean, is that included in child support? They're gaming, they're whatever. There's so many things. Our kids today have a gazillion things, and I'm sure we did too, relative to what our parents thought, but it's a lot.
Julie Morgan: It really is. I'm just thinking about this, and by the way, your son sounds so sweet. It's a reflection of his parents, I'm sure, his generosity. I always think so.
Heather Quick: He's something else, but it's funny. I was like, "How did you eat three pizzas at lunch?" "Oh, they all wanted pizza." I'm like, "All right."
Julie Morgan: "I'm a growing boy," that's what he should have said.
Heather Quick: That is for sure. Well, he is. There's no doubt.
Julie Morgan: I know you mentioned as far as percentages are concerned, you said something about 70%, 40%, 50%. Let's kind of break this down just a little bit more. What if you haven't worked during the marriage? How does that affect child support? Or if the woman is the breadwinner? I like that. Will she have to pay child support? How does all of this affect child support?
Heather Quick: Where we start in the evaluation is income. Okay, let's start with the stay-at-home mom. Now, the law, it has evolved, but that's probably going to be a case where alimony is going to be in play for however long. That is going to go in because, and I'm just going to use round numbers, just for ease of math. The husband let's just say, he's at $20,000 a month, gross income. Then the wife's going to get some alimony. I'm going to use big numbers. I like big numbers. So hers is $5,000. Okay, so now his income is $15,000, all right, and hers is $5,000. That's going to play into it. Oh yeah, because now that's her income for calculation of alimony, and I know you look shocked, but it is, but the good news is she doesn’t have to pay taxes on it now.
Many women would end up in a hardship, not understanding, they're getting this money and they need to set aside money for taxes.Fortunately, now they no longer have to pay taxes on alimony. Now we have her income at $5,000, his income is $15,000 a month. Then we're going to go down the line from that. Possibly income is imputed to her. The law does state that. What is she capable of doing? Sometimes we hire experts to do an evaluation. Is it minimum wage? Does she have a college degree? If she had a career, but took time off, that goes into play. Sometimes it's later on, but that would go in on her income, even if she's not making it.
Now, similarly, let's say she's the breadwinner. He can work. Well, they're going to impute money to him that he has to make. Then we go from there and then you see the difference with the overnights. Childcare goes in there as well, by who's paying it, and then we look at, well you change alimony, but it's better off economically for the wife to get more alimony because that right now is not a formula that has been proposed at legislation. We'll talk about all that later, but the alimony, just, and this is round numbers, but for every $1,000, you add to the alimony, it only changes child support by like $100.
The percentages they really kind of max out. I mean, and I'm telling you somebody who makes, you know, $20,000 a month, they might have to pay $5,000 in child support. There's such a disparity in that formula. There should be like this high earning formula and then another formula.There should be probably a lot of reform to that child support, but that's not there now. You've made a lot of expressions, Julie, I know you're in shock.
Julie Morgan: I have no words. You're listening to Women Winning Divorce with Heather Quick, owner and attorney for Florida Women's Law Group. Heather, we left off and we're going to start talking about modification. We talked about that a little bit in the first segment of the show. Modification and penalties for not paying; penalties, I really want to talk about penalties.
Heather Quick: Penalties, what should we talk about?
Julie Morgan: Let’s first of all, start off with modification. How and why would the amount of child support be modified? What factors are involved in that?
Heather Quick: As the statute reads, it is always modifiable, and I'm going to talk about the economic part first, and then some other things that will affect it. It is modifiable if the change would be at least $50 or 15%, whatever is greater. An example would be, "Hey, I know he got a new job." But how do you know? I mean, that's the hard part; you're divorced. You're not together. You're not really sure if he's making more money or not, but you think he is, by evidence of things, or the kids are like, "Dad got a new job." That is where we look at it and you make a change.
Now, as soon as you file for modification child support, you are going to get a response that says, "Oh, I want more time with the children," or whatever, and it's so basic. The attorneys, men are so predictable, but that's what they do then, is change on time. That's the first way that we look to modify, is purely on the financial aspect.
Julie Morgan: Okay. I know you saw my face when you said $50 or 15%, whichever is greater. $50 is not much. It's not a lot of money.
Heather Quick: No, it's not, but it can make a real difference for most people. But then you think of the hassle of going to court, and trying to do that just for that increase. You're hoping it's going to be substantial to make it worthwhile. Now, if alimony ends or alimony is increased, that's going to affect child support, if they’re related. Typically, the way that it is to be done, is if we came to an agreement or even the court ordered it through a trial, that alimony was ordered for five years. Okay, well, the children are still going to be under 18 after that.
There will be a perspective calculation say right now in 2022, even though this isn't going to happen until 2027, so at that point we may have to go and reflect that, but it will say, at that point, child support goes up, when alimony goes away. We do a calculation, with the intent to prevent the need to have to go to court, but it may still be required.
Then, say you have three kids, they turn 18 and graduate from high school. If they turn 18, and they don't graduate until June, it is required that then when this divorce or paternity action is finalized, we say, on that date child support is going to change. That's difficult because there’s not many people that I know that say, "Oh, okay, you're 18. You graduated from high school, hit the road." You're still feeding them, clothing them, taking care of them, but that's the law. You don't have a legal responsibility to financially support them once they turn 18.
Julie Morgan: You know what, I was about to ask you that? So 18 is the magic number?
Heather Quick: In Florida. Now, in DC, I’m licensed in Washington, DC, it's 21, which truly is a much more realistic number based on what kids do. Even if they go to college, I mean wherever they go, they still generally need some financial support. I'm not sure what the age is in New York but it is a higher age as well. The last time I looked it was either 20, 21, I think.
Julie Morgan: Have there been petitions to change the law in Florida?
Heather Quick: Not in this fashion. They're a lot of lobbyists for men to pay less and to get rid of alimony. There are very few lobbyists to help children and women financially, in my opinion.
Julie Morgan: Now let's talk about the penalties for not paying. What happens if that happens?
Heather Quick: I've seen a lot in these 22 years of practicing law. The main thing is you have to have the ability to pay. I'm going to give an extreme example. If the fathers in jail, he can't earn money, or shouldn't earn money. You can't really do much about that. Now just because you're unemployed doesn't mean you don't still have an obligation, but the court can't put you in jail if they find you didn't have the ability.
Now they may say this is in arrearage, meaning you still owe the past due money, but I'm not putting you in jail. However, very often, you will see men go to jail, and the bond out, they call it a purge amount, is the amount that they owe, and then they will miraculously come up with the money. I've seen some harsh judges, I haven't been in child enforcement court in a long time, because there's a lot that goes on that's unrepresented.
I have heard judges say, "Well, what about that watch? What about that jewelry? It looks like your purse is expensive. It looks like you ought to be able to sell your shoes. You ought to be able to come up with the money." That is probably not very politically correct, but that used to happen, and they just say it, and they're like, "Don't come in here looking like a million bucks, and tell me you can't support your child," You can go to jail, and that does happen. That certainly does happen, but it usually doesn't happen the first time.
Julie Morgan: This, I wrote this down. So you mentioned if he's in jail, or whoever is supposed to pay child support is in jail, what if you find out he's actually earning money while he's in jail?
Heather Quick: In that case, then yes, he would be required to support now.Why? Because he could have a job, could be on a lot of different things. Once the state gets involved and that's called the Department of Revenue, they can and will garnish wages. It takes a long time. Every state, like I said is different. There are some states that are much more aggressive in enforcing child support than say Florida, but they do.
It just takes a long time, but that can certainly happen. If there is an arrearage established and you have it registered through the state of Florida, which is always a very, in my opinion, smart thing to do, because then if they haven't paid and they have a tax return refund, the state will nab it and send it to the mom to make up for the past amount owed.
Julie Morgan: Can I refuse visitation if child support is not being paid?
Heather Quick: No. Those two are mutually exclusive. You need to financially support your child and you need to always make sure that visitation is open. You have to go to court. You're going to get nabbed for withholding the child because they are not paying, so can't do it, you have to take the high road. You have to let your child see the other parent.
He may be financially a dead beat, but still loves his kid and wants to see them, you have to let that happen. What really does happen, and this is, remember we talked about in the first segment that percentage of time and that's that 40% and 50%, and you're going to be shocked by this, but I am telling you the truth.
Sometimes in a divorce the husband fights to have all this time with the kid and then doesn't exercise it. Then guess who has the child, 80, 90% of the time is mom, but I'm getting support based on a different schedule. You can go back and get retroactive money for the father who is not exercising the time. That's not you refusing, that is them failing to exercise the time.
Julie Morgan: Okay. Would that be an absentee father basically or no?
Heather Quick: I mean, yes. It’s just somebody, and the moms usually know that. They're like, “He is not going to see these kids. Can we make the court, make him see them every other weekend or maybe one in a month? Give me a break?” No, and that's unfortunate. All we can do is make him pay.
Julie Morgan: This really goes back to another show that we did and we talked about the mental health of the children, because that has to really weigh on them in some way.
Heather Quick: Absolutely. I've said this before when we talk about disparaging the other parent. Kids are going to know. If he's a loser, he is a loser. They're going to figure that out because the way they treat them, the way they treat their mom, I mean, they're just smaller human beings that pick up on all that.
They understand, they know if their dad's riding around in a nice car has a new house, a new family and yet they're struggling at home for mom to try to buy them what they need. They do. It’s unfortunate and it is true, why the mental health, teaching, helping your kids have the skills to cope with that. At the end of the day, it's still their dad. It could still be the mom who is not being a great mom and not putting the kids first and the children are going to learn to cope with it. Those are going to be skills that they can learn that will be good because then they don't carry around that hate and resentment their whole life.
I mean, truthfully, I feel like we need to give them the tools they need to accept their parents for who they are. We all want parents to do a better job for kids and they're just human beings who some just can't. It's very frustrating always for one spouse versus the other, but how different are they from the person that you married? They probably are who they are and they haven't turned into anything greatly different unless they've really worked at it.
Julie Morgan: Let's talk about child support and special needs children. We talked about what child support doesn't really cover in the first segment of the show, but when we're talking about a special needs child, there's so many other things that really need to be taken into consideration. What happens in this case?
Heather Quick: That would be more specific when you're originally going through the divorce as far as what the child needs. This could be therapy, maybe some special tutoring, whatever it is, and those costs are already, you know what those are, we would incorporate those in some way. Yes, you can account for that in child support, to some extent, or within a separate order that this amount gets paid by this person or whatnot.
Yeah, because we've already talked about how expensive the kids are, but then when you have some special needs and you have special medical therapy issues that need to be taken into account, the law does provide for that. You just have to make that case and prove that and determine who's going to be financially responsible
Julie Morgan: This basically tells me that 18 is probably not the magic number in this case.
Heather Quick: Correct. If you're getting divorced, the child's 12, you're going to have to go back to court prior to 18, because it's so much more in the future and to have that determination to have this support continued because there are certain things that are going to come into play once they are an adult.
There may be some disability available, but if they've never worked, I mean, those things are different, but can come into account. They may be eligible for some type of funding that might make sense for the family. It's important to know that yes, there is support generally beyond the age of 18 and a special needs child, but you're going to need to go to court and get that ordered. It's not going to just continue on without a specific order requiring that.
Julie Morgan: I was thinking that this is something, since you know that you have a special needs child, that it would all automatically just continue because it's a known thing.
Heather Quick: Again, depending on the parties, they can agree to that but some people won't. They'll say, “No. Let's see what happens.” I will tell you, in those kinds of cases, when the marriage is breaking up, those can be very stressful relationships because of those increased stressors of a child and there sometimes is just a lot more animosity, anger, resentment, you name it.
The law provides for that but generally it's something where you acknowledge it and the original agreement that we may have to go back. It may also be a reason where say, in care of the special needs of the child, the wife could have a job, and need care for them. However, the care really prevents her from doing that so that increases her need for alimony which we'll talk about later, because everything really is interrelated but so many things come into play with it.
Julie Morgan: You're listening to Women Winning Divorce with Heather Quick, owner and attorney for Florida Women's Law Group. Tell me this, do grandparents or other family members, do they have rights when it comes to children?
Heather Quick: They do not, not in the state of Florida. That's been quite a few years ago where it was determined that parents have a constitutional right to rear their children and that grandparents don't have any rights per se, to see the child, to seek visitation with the child in most cases. There are some things carved out in the law where they can seek visitation, but those are exceptions.
Julie Morgan: My question is, let's say that one of the parents was in incarcerated and they didn't go to court to say, “Okay, this is the person that's going to have custody of the child while the parent is incarcerated,” but let's say it's the mother. The mother gets out and takes the child back from the grandparent and then doesn't let the grandmother or grandparents see the child. In that case, would that be an exception, especially since they were already there raising them at some point?
Heather Quick: No, is the short answer. I can even give you a more shocking answer or scenario and it's sad. It is. I understand. It's just is. Okay, you have a family and let's say they're divorced. Mom dies. Father gets the child and the mom's parents love the child dearly and had quite the relationship before she died. The father can say, “Nope, you have no rights to see my child,” and the court, they will not order it. They will not require him to see their mother's parents.
Julie Morgan: But that is their blood running through that child's veins. I mean…
Heather Quick: I know, we can most likely agree it's not good for them. That child has family, they've lost their mother, you ought to encourage that, but I'm just telling you that you can't do it. Legally, it's just not going to happen. You know, that it's heartbreaking for the grandparents and it is, I would suggest equally heartbreaking for that child who had a relationship with them, but they don't have rights in that case.
The only time a grandparent could seek visitation is if a child basically has been what you would call adjudicated. We've talked about adjudicated dependent, meaning they're in dependency court, say DCF, then a grandparent can seek to have visitation. But as far as the other situations in family law, it's not a possibility.
Julie Morgan: Let's talk about managing expectations. Do women sometimes have unrealistic expectations about custody and the amount of support that they'll get?
Heather Quick: Absolutely. I think everybody does. I mean, hey, I'm number one, I am completely unrealistic. Absolutely. Sometimes I'm like, “Yeah, I don't see why we can't do that.” The reality of the law and these formulas and the way it all plays out, you're like, you have got to be kidding me. I think that that is natural to be unrealistic. If you have not been through it before, you're going to be shocked, probably on many things.
I expect the clients to be, and that is our job as hard as it is, to tell them maybe not what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. This is how the law plays out and it doesn't mean that your life is over, but you need to understand how the law looks at things and people. Many times I've heard, “That's not fair,” and it's like this is the justice system. It's not necessarily fair, but it is the law.
It's not always black and white the law is fact based in law. That's what the lawyer does for you. I would absolutely say that most people coming into it, whether they're men or women are a bit shocked as to, “What? This is how this is going to play out?”
Julie Morgan: How do you prepare someone for that? Because it seems like you may have the conversation, “Now, listen, this is probably not going to be what you're expecting,” and then you tell them the number and they realize there was so much truth in what you said before. I mean, maybe there is no preparation for that because you just don't know.
Heather Quick: I think it is just reinforcing again and again. “Hey, this is the law.” These are areas where I think we have room to make arguments and maybe get more. That's why mediation can be a wonderful thing because the idea is, let's make a list of the things that we are getting in mediation that really, it won't happen in court because court's pretty black or white.
A judge is going to make some decisions one way or another, there’s not as much flexibility. But to have both sides negotiating in a way that, “Hey, I'm achieving something that I'm probably not going to get in court from a judge, but as my spouse, we can negotiate certain things, maybe certain money, things the way they work.” We just reinforce it again and again with our clients and the women and at the end of the day, if you're in a relationship that is not healthy and is not serving you or your children, I think money is not everything.
Money's important. I mean, we have to pay the bills but you need to look at your quality of life, the peacefulness of your situation and if you have a little more peace, that's going to give you more energy and more time to figure out how to change your life. That's the way I look at it. If there's an amount of money that you're like, “Hey, unless I get this amount, I'm not leaving,” I can't answer that for you. I don't know.
We all make decisions that are difficult and sometimes the decision is not worth it. Well, that's your choice. I mean, everybody, that's what we have free will, but we're a no-fault state so don't be surprised if you wake up one day and you get served.
Julie Morgan: Something you said, and you've talked about this before, but we haven't really talked about exactly what it is and really the benefits of it. Mediation. What exactly is that?
Heather Quick: So mediation is where there are certified mediators in the state of Florida. Anybody that wants to be a mediator, they have to be a lawyer as well. There are some mediators out there now who aren't lawyers, but that was before the law change, which was probably at least 15 years ago.
They have experience in family law. They understand the law, they understand the issues, in the ideal situation, each party has their own attorney and then the mediator works between the two to facilitate an agreement. It works more often than it doesn't and the reason for that is a mediator is neutral.
Ideally, in any negotiation they're going to try to play devil's advocate and help you see the other side because as your advocate, as your attorney, I'm on your side and I'm advocating for you. What's also really important that some folks mistakenly think, we can just go to mediation, we don’t need attorneys.
Well you don’t just go to mediation, everybody has to go. But if you don't have a lawyer, you don't even know what your rights are so how do you know if you're making a good deal? That mediator, they absolutely can't advise you. They cannot say, “Hey, you won't get this in court,” or, “You could do much better.”
They can't. They have ethics, they can say, “This is what he's offering,” and they might scare you about going to court it. Court is where decisions get made and too often, I've heard from women who were like, “Well, I was just so nervous about going to court.”
There's nothing to be nervous about. If you have an attorney, they know the rules, they know how to get you where you want to be, and then they can say, “Okay, this deal, this is your worst deal that you're signing for, because now you're afraid you can't go,” or, “This is a great deal, sign it before they change their mind.”
But if you don't know, then how can you make a good decision, if you don't know what the law would do and what those options are. When we're in that situation and we mediate and you've got the attorney, we settle probably 80% of our cases.
Julie Morgan: So mediation is a requirement.
Heather Quick: Yes. In the state of Florida in a divorce, it is required.
Julie Morgan: Okay. Are there some people that get to the table and say, “You know what? I don't want to do this.”
Heather Quick: Oh yeah. All the time. But the mediators do require a two-hour minimum. Now some of the private mediators require a four-hour minimum so that you don't just show up and go, “Y'all go pound sand. I'm out.” That can happen, and those are usually folks who maybe aren't represented because you're paying your attorney.
I have been in cases in a mediation where we were there for a few hours and then they were like, “Nope, we're not settling.” Usually that happens with people who are being greedy. In these instances where then I've gone to trial, we have prevailed because they had an opportunity to settle in compromise, which is not easy, nobody likes to compromise. Everybody wants everything they want. I mean, we all do.
When you have that ability to compromise, and like I said, an agreement on things that are really important to people, Julie, it's usually the children, certain holidays. Things that are very specific, but really important to them or the court's just going to be pretty generic on decisions.
There are some things in mediation that you can really negotiate and feel good about it and it's also a cost benefit analysis. It's going to cost more to try this case and sometimes you just have to because the other person's like, “No, I'm not agreeing to anything.”
That kind of attitude usually doesn't fare well for those people in front of a court because they're not seeing the whole picture as far as they have nothing to lose. You know, you can't negotiate with people who are like, “I have nothing to lose. I'll go to court.” You might.
Julie Morgan: Oh my. Any parting words on this topic, Heather?
Heather Quick: We talked about so much, Julie. My best advice is, talk to a lawyer. Just understand where you stand and how the various laws and everything works because when we're talking about children and money and assets, you need to do it right, because when you don't, that's something you do regret and you have to live with the fact that you didn't really understand what was happening.
Julie Morgan: And it seems like it's going to cost you if you don't do it right.
Heather Quick: Oh yes. I generally tell people that. You can go do it on your own. It'll cost you twice as much, twice as long. When you come back and recognize that, yes I was right. This was not something you should do on your own. The worst part though, Julie, I mean, because I don't mind trying to fix the mess and dig somebody out of a hole. We're really good at that here but the worst for me is if you've gotten yourself in a mess in a court order and I will tell you legally, “We can't change it.” I hate to see that for people who are just naive, scared, making a decision and then they're like, “I want to change this,” and it's like, “Well, you signed this last week and this is probably not going to happen. Legally, this is not something that you're going to have a right to change”.
There's no lawyer who wants to tell a client, “I'm sorry, you went into this on your own and now you aren't happy with it. This is something I can't fix for you.” That's why it's so important to understand, like we've talked about throughout, from the very beginning. You are entering into the laws of the state of Florida and those laws are going to govern. You need to know what's going on because the law and these judges, they have a lot of power to make decisions about your life and it's very important to know where you stand and what you have to risk or lose. What's at risk for you.
Julie Morgan: Well, we've come to the end of this show. Thank you for listening to Women Winning Divorce. We hope you found information to help you navigate your divorce. If you like our show, please take the time to subscribe and provide a five-star review. If you need more information, please visit our firstname.lastname@example.org, where you will find previous episodes and other helpful content. Join us next week as we continue our journey of Women Winning Divorce.