The History Channel has a show that follows Cajuns around while they hunt alligators in the swamps of Louisana.  This show, “Swamp People”, is an American reality/documentary television series that follows the day-to-day activities of several Cajuns who hunt alligators for a living.  The series was first broadcast in August of 2010, and is fairly popular as the show began its third season in February of this year.

One actor on the show, unfortunately, is providing negative publicity for the series when his fun Disney World trip turned violent.

Noces Joseph LaFont, Jr., one of the stars of “Swamp People,” has been arrested in Florida on domestic violence charges according to Orange County Sheriff’s deputies.  LaFont, who is known as “Trapper John” on the show, was staying at a hotel near Disney World with his girlfriend,  Trene Marie Planche, when they began arguing.  According to police reports, the couple who had been drinking, were outside the hotel when LaFont answered his cell phone and Planche demanded to know who he was talking to and tried to snatch the phone from his hand. 

An eye witness to the altercation, Reginald Hazzard, stated that LaFont tried to burn Planche with his cigarette, missed, and then began shaking her by both arms.  LaFont then punched  Planche in the chest.  He denied punching his girlfriend, despite the redness in her chest area.  Planche refused medical treatment and also refused to press charges.

LaFont was charged with battery and assault and booked into the Orange County Jail, where he later posted bail and was released.

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Florida is one of a handful of states that allows permanent lifetime alimony that does not end at retirement, but only ceases upon death or remarriage of the recipient.  This law can have devastating consequences for the former spouse who has to pay out this permanent alimony.

Florida Alimony Reform (FAR) is America’s largest alimony reform group and represents more than 2,000 families across the state that, according to the group, are being crippled by Florida’s alimony laws.

During the 2012 legislative session, FAR proposed an overhaul of Florida’s alimony laws, which in FAR’s opinion, are outdated and antiquated.  Alan Frisher, Divorce Financial Analyst and Co-Director of Florida Alimony Reform, stated that the chances for reform had looked encouraging, but then took a turn for the worse, when the Senate sponsor for alimony reform did not adopt the House Bill and also did not present a Senate version of the bill that allowed for any significant change from current law.

Frisher stated that current Florida alimony law  is harmful to many families and taxpayers, with ultimate financial benefit not going to the alimony payer, but instead to Family Law attorneys who represent their clients in court.  He also added that numerous articles have been published that relate how permanent alimony has adversely affected families for generations.

The revisions to the alimony law that FAR is requesting reflects changing social and demographic patterns, as well as the the toll the economic slump has brought to this country. 

Two issues at the center of the alimony debate are the amount of discretion judges throughout the state have in each case, and the fact that Florida is one of only a few states in the entire country that grant permanent alimony.

Supporters of the current alimony law say that current laws are progressive and that, according to Florida Bar Family Section Chairman David Manz, “we’ve changed substantially in two years, and are continuing to do so.”

Panama City Family Attorney Gerard Virga said that “the government isn’t going to do anything that’s going to make them pay more money in social welfare programs, so they have an interest honestly, the state does, in maintaining a form of alimony.”

FAR is already working on another reform bill for the next legislative session and hoping for a better outcome in 2013.

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A prenuptial agreement is a contract entered into prior to marriage by a couple who are planning to marry.  The usual content of a prenuptial agreement can vary widely, but commonly includes provisions for division of property and spousal support in the event of the breakup of the marriage.  The contract can also contain terms for the forfeiture of assets if the divorce has been granted on grounds of adultery.  There are times when the issue of guardianship is also included in a prenuptial contract.

In the past, judges in this country tended to disregard prenuptials agreements because they accepted the view that these contracts turned what was supposed to be the most intimate and sacred bond into a financial arrangement, but nowadays they are recognized, though they may not be enforced.  In the United States, prenuptial agreements are recognized in Florida and the other 49 states, as well as the District of Columbia, and require five elements to be valid.

  • the agreement must be in writing as oral prenuptials are generally unenforceable
  • full and/or fair disclosure at the time of execution
  • must be executed voluntarily
  • the agreement cannot be unconscionable
  • the agreement must be executed by both parties “in the manner required for a deed to be recorded”, which is known as an acknowledgment, before a notary public

In Florida as in other states, the prenuptial agreement, or as it is called in Florida, the Premarital Agreement, becomes effective upon marriage.  The agreement can be amended, revoked or abandoned, but only by a written agreement signed by both parties.

Although no couple goes into a marriage thinking they may divorce in later years, unfortunately there is a fifty-fifty chance that divorce is in their future, and there are times when a premarital agreement can be quite beneficial.

A prenuptial agreement protects one party who enters into a marriage with a larger amount of assets than that of his soon to be spouse.  It also protects the party who enters into marriage with a partner who has a high amount of debt in that after a divorce, the creditors will go after the owner of the debt and not his/her innocent partner.  If one partner in a marriage should pass away, a prenuptial agreement could keep previously acquired assets separate from his/her  current marital estate, ensuring that the children from a previous marriage receive part of the estate. 

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In the state of Florida, parents or concerned parties are required to take a parenting course (also known as a divorce class) to obtain a divorce when there are minor children involved.  This course can assist parents in learning about the effects divorce can have on their family, as well as the best way to handle the difficult transition.

Divorce can be an emotional and traumatic time for both parents and their children, especially when parents are antagonistic and engage in a lengthy legal battle.  Conflict in a divorce has been found to be detrimental for children in that they can  suffer both short-term and long-term economic, emotional and educational effects during the divorce process.  One solution to alleviate the damage and stress to children, is to educate the parents.

Experts have discovered that parents who are provided information on how the courts make decisions on issues affecting their children are more inclined to consider the bests interests of their children when determining custody arrangements.  The topics included in the Florida parenting class relate to court action between parents involving custody, care, visitation and support of a child or children. The course is a minimum of four hours long and is designed by the state to educate, train and assist parents to understand and be aware of the consequences of divorce on both parents and children.  Florida has made it possible for couples to take the course in person, online or through correspondence.

The course also contains information regarding both spousal and child abuse and neglect along with agencies that provide assistance with these issues.  No mental health therapy or legal advice will be given in the course and those providers of the course are not allowed to solicit participants to become clients or patients.

The state expects divorcing couples to complete the Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course in a timely manner and prior to the entry by the court of a final judgment, unless the court excuses the couple from attending or completing the course.  

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The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department for Children and Families (DCF), both describe child abuse or maltreatment as any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child. According to Childhelp, every year 3.3 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States involving 6 million children.  For an industrialized nation, the United States has one of the worst records in child abuse deaths,  losing  five children every day. 

Experts and researchers in child development have known there is a relation between early abuse and mental illness in children for quite some time.  In a recent study in using brain scans to show the effects of child abuse, researchers have discovered specific changes in regions and the hippocampus in the brains of young adults who were maltreated or neglected in childhood.  These changes lead the researchers to believe that child abuse victims are more vulnerable to depression, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The study was conducted by a Harvard research team led by Dr. Martin Teicher and studied approximately 200 people aged 18 to 21, who were mainly middle-class and well-educated.  The study excluded those who were severely addicted to drugs and those on psychiatric medications, because both types of drugs could cause changes in the brain that could obscure the findings. 

When the researchers studied the brain scans of these young adults, they could see the aftermath of that trauma they had suffered as a child.  Formerly maltreated youth showed reductions in the volume of the hippocampus, and also reductions in two other regions of the brain when compared with people who had not been abused.  It appears that early stress makes the brain less resilient to the effects of later stress.  The researchers wrote that  we “suspect that our findings are a consequence of maltreatment and a risk factor for developing PTSD following exposure to further traumas.”

Even though the findings are just preliminary in nature, with nearly 4 million children evaluated for child abuse or neglect in our nation every year, child maltreatment isn’t something we can ignore.  This is a problem that costs our country over $120 billion in lost productivity and health, child welfare and criminal justice costs every year.  From this study, researchers have pinpointed that the effects of abuse do linger and puts these children at risk in later years for not only mental illness, but for developing such chronic diseases as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. 

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In Orthodox Judaism, a betei din, or beth din as it is also known, is a rabbinical court of Judaism.  In ancient biblical times, it was the building block of the legal system in Israel, but today its legal powers and its judgments hold varying degrees of authority in matters related to Jewish religious life.  For the Orthodox Jew, a betei din is required or preferred for validation of religious bills of divorce.  In Florida, a state bill may end up preventing Orthodox couples from using betei din to arbitrate their divorce even though the bill is not targeted for that purpose.

The new proposed Florida state bill, The Application of Foreign Law in Certain Cases, is actually targeting an alleged threat from Islamic law, the Sharia.  Shaira is an Arabic word meaning the path or way, but today the term is used most commonly to mean Islamic law, the very detailed system of religious law developed by Muslim scholars long ago and still in force among fundamentalists today.  In the Sharia, Islam must be dominant and only Muslims are considered full citizens, with Jews and Christians, being deemed lowly members of society.  Sharia also discriminates on gender with men being considered superior to women.  The concern for Americans are the cases where Muslim litigants seek to have their cases in U.S. Courts decided by principles of Sharia law.  According to the Center for Security Policy (CSP), as of May 2011, they had identified 50 examples in 23 states where Muslim-Americans had their cases decided by Sharia Law against their will. 

Though the Florida bill is trying to target just the Sharia Law threat, Jewish leaders fear  the law will instead prevent Orthodox couples from using the Jewish religious courts for arbitrating their divorces and other family court matters as the bill only applies to divorce, child support and custody hearings in family court.  According to the proposed bill, arbitration is unenforceable if a tribunal system bases its ruling on a “foreign law, legal code or system” that does not grant people the same rights as the Florida State or U.S Constitutions.  David Yerushalmi, who drafted legislation the Florida bill is based upon, said that courts would not apply the bill to arbitration rulings of the batei din because these Jewish courts do nothing to violate constitutional principles. 

The controversial bill has already been passed by the House, but is expected to stall in Senate unless leaders steer it to the floor.

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We all know that divorce is a stressful and emotional time in a couple’s life, but it doesn’t have to an antagonistic time, as well.  There are ways to have an amicable divorce and prevent the emotional rollercoaster of divorce from escalating out of control.

One of the first and most important steps to having an amicable (friendly) divorce is to keep the lines of communication open.  Let your spouse know that you are open to all forms of communication and that you are willing to talk about  anything he/she may need to be clarified.  If you can deal directly with your spouse, then you can cut down on the expense of a mediator and you will also bring greater transparency between your respective perspectives and priorities as well.  One very important point in communication is to not place your children in the role of messengers between you and your spouse as they do not need the added strain or stress in an already stressful situation.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks in the way of any divorce, whether amicable of not, is finances.  You and your spouse need to thrash out the money situation immediately because if you do not, then unpaid bills and other unpaid debt, will not only add to the financial strain now, but could actually cause bankruptcy in the future.  Discuss how property will be divided up and how you will pay for the big purchase loans or payments, such as cars, boats or the house payment.  If a couple can agree civilly to the division of property and the questions of spousal, if applicable, and child support, the divorce process can be so much less stress and animosity free.

When children are involved in a divorce, the process is more complex and exposes the children to feelings of insecurity, abandonment, grief and perhaps, even guilt.  The end of a marriage does not mean that children lose a parent.  Both parents should still be involved in making all major decisions for the children and raising them should be a joint effort.  Make an effort to keep the other parent informed about the children’s needs and progress at school and other organizations. Do not make negative remarks about the other parent in front of your children or they may feel like they need to choose sides and this could cause feelings of insecurity and guilt.  When it comes down to child custody, try to come to a reasonable agreement, one that will benefit the children, not just the spouses..

Divorce still may not be an ideal situation, but if both partners put a lot of effort and thought into making the process as easy as possible, an amicable divorce is possible.

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Though divorce is a difficult and emotional process for families to go through, contrary to popular belief, divorce isn’t always negative for children, and, in fact, according to Dr. Shoshana Bennett, sometimes it’s excellent for children.  Dr. Bennett lists five ways in which your children can benefit from divorce.

When parents argue and fight and are unhappy, no one else in the family is happy.  It very stressful for children to see and hear their parents fight and argue.  Once a divorce is over and mom and dad have moved on, the stress of the relationship is gone, and there is no more arguing and fighting and everyone is happier.  When mom and dad are happy, children are happy as well.

Unfortunately, when the tension is great in a household, children’s behavior deteriorates . When parents divorce the household tension dissolves, and children become more relaxed and their behavior improves.

Staying in a bad relationship “for the kids”, is not benefitting anyone.  When you divorce, there will be an adjustment period, but the end result will be positive.  You are actually showing your children not to settle for an unhealthy marriage when you end an unhappy marriage.

Sharing custody of children can give your kids the opportunity to fully experience each parent.  Many times when both parents are together, one parent does most of the nurturing and planning.  After a divorce, a child will have each parent focusing just on him when they spend time together.

Whether or not you enter into another relationship, your children can benefit by watching your happy independence or your new positive relationship.

What is important to remember after you divorce is that your new life is what you make it and your children’s attitude, behavior and well-being will follow suit.

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It seems like that would be impossible but it doesn’t have to be so. Look at some of the most notably public divorces that have ended in mutual respect – Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, Katy Perry and Russell Brand, and most recently Katie Holms and Tom Cruise.

Nice divorce seems like a contradictory statement, but in the end if it’s possible it can make life so much easier for all involved, especially if children are involved. But even aside from kids it will make things easier on family and friends. When a long-lasting friendship-turned-marriage turns sour, it’s almost as if the friends in your shared circle are another set of children.

Children will benefit the most from a friendly divorce. Keeping your marital differences as your own rather than exposing them to your kids will help smooth the inevitably rocky road in front of them. Keeping your differences to yourself will allow the children to form their own opinions about each parental figure rather than providing them with fuel to be angry with you.

A collaborative divorce can save time and money once you’ve made the decision to part ways. To be able to have such an experience, each party must agree to avoid the confrontational side of divorce and seek a cooperative divorce. This will keep costs down and keep things out of the courtroom. Not all divorces can be so amicable. If you can’t stand the site of your soon-to-be-ex, sitting down and having polite discussion over the division of assets may not be possible. But if you can, you stand to save anywhere from 40 to 65 percent on legal proceedings. The end result means there’s more left for you and your ex to divide.

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Divorce, more than likely, was not the plan when you and your spouse tied the knot. But now that you’ve come to a point where that is the next step, it’s best to have some things planned ahead of time. That may sound heartless and cruel, but early planning can save a lot of stress in the end. Divorce is stressful enough on all parties involved. Planning will make it easier on yourself and others by get some key things done beforehand.

It is absolutely imperative that you know all the details about your finances. Be sure to have a copy of all documents. It helps to have the documents in electronic format, kept on a CD or external hard drive storage so that you can take it with you easily. It’s critical to do this ahead of time because often is the case that these documents disappear once the actual divorce proceedings begin. Oftentimes these records aren’t the easiest found under the best of circumstances, so it’s a good idea to know ahead of time where everything is so that you have copies of your own. Be sure to have tax returns, bonus calculations, and W-9’s. Having these ready will help you know how to plan for division of assets.

Once those things are all in order, you’ll need to begin aligning your priorities. Know what’s most important to least important for you as to the outcome of all things. These things are similar to the financial planning step, except that they’ll also include division of time with the children and what the living needs are for them. What will you need to keep them as comfortable as possible during this difficult time? Do they need to stay in the same home? If not, what do you need in the way of furniture for them. Do you have a pension plan? Do you plan to hold on to it? Make sure you know the cost of such things as they will figure into the planning process as well.

There’s much to think about and be ready for ahead of time. The more prepared you are, the more smoothly things will run. This will be a high anxiety time anyway. Planning ahead can help alleviate a lot of that tension.

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