FISHER'S LAW OFFICE NEWSLETTERS

Newsletter
December 1997
Fisher's Law Office

Welcome to the NEWSLETTER of Fisher's Law Office, providing you with legal information you can use in your everyday life. If you have questions, don't hesitate to call or send us an e-mail today.

1998 will usher in some major changes in the law. Here are some changes that Fisher's Law Office expects to occur in 1998 and ways that you can protect yourself against these changes:

1. BANKRUPTCY LAWS ARE ABOUT TO CHANGE AND THE FLORIDA HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION IS "HISTORY"

Currently, a Florida debtor is allowed to keep his home after filing for bankruptcy. This is generally true no matter how much the home is worth. Under changes proposed to the United States Bankruptcy law, the bankruptcy exemption for homes will be limited to $100,000.00 for Florida residents. It is expected that there will be a transition period so if you wish to keep your home after a bankruptcy and it is worth more than $100,000.00, you may want to consider filing for bankruptcy now before the proposed law takes effect.

2. HERE ARE SOME STATISTICS ABOUT BANKRUPTCY:

Household borrowing as of 1997 reached 1.4 trillion dollars. Total mortgage debt of Americans is approaching 4 trillion dollars. Over 1,300,000 people and companies filed for bankruptcy in 1997.

1998 could see over two million people and companies filing for bankruptcy.

Florida has strong debtor protection laws that allow debtors to keep many of their assets after filing for bankruptcy. These laws will probably change dramatically if current proposals are enacted by Congress.

3. TAKE THIS TEST TO SEE IF YOU'RE A CANDIDATE FOR BANKRUPTCY:

         YES             NO

  1. Are you borrowing money or using credit cards to pay for items you used to pay for with cash? ____

  2. Is more than 15% of your income going to pay debts? ____

  3. Are you dipping into your savings to pay current bills? ____

  4. If you or your spouse lost your jobs, do you have less than three months take-home pay in a savings account? ____

  5. Can you usually only make the minimum payment on your credit cards? ____

  6. Are you extending repayment schedules paying in 60 or 90 days the bills you once paid in 30? ____

  7. Are you near, at, or over the credit limit on your credit cards? ____

  8. Are you unsure of how much you owe? ____

  9. Do you habitually pay your bills late? ____

10. Do you charge more each month than you make in payments? ____

11. Do you use a cash advance on one credit card to make payments on other credit cards? ____

12. Has a collection agency called recently about an overdue bill? ____

13. Are you threatened with repossession of your car or cancellation of your credit cards or with other legal action? ____

If you answer yes to three or more of these questions, you may be a candidate for bankruptcy. See a lawyer now.

4. HERE ARE SOME LITTLE KNOWN TECHNICALITIES OF FAMILY LAW THAT EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW:

Child support accrues from the date of birth for children born out of wedlock. What this means is that you can collect child support for a child born out of wedlock even if the child is a teen. See us for details.

Children born during marriage cannot receive child support until a dissolution of marriage petition is filed; child support only accrues from the date of filing a divorce petition.

Florida's child support guidelines were supposed to change in 1997 but the legislature failed to change them. Many feel that Florida's Child Support Guidelines call for child support payments that are extremely high. For example, under Florida's current guidelines, an individual earning $2,000.00 a month can expect to pay $686.00 a month to support two children while under Canadian law, someone earning a similar amount would only pay $340.00 per month. Here are some examples of child support in Florida:

Available Income
in US Dollars
Number of Children
1
2
3
4
5
1000
235
365
397
402
406
1500
340
529
662
746
813
2000
442
686
859
968
1054
2500
547
847
1061
1196
1304
3000
644
1001
1252
1412
1540
3500
738
1149
1438
1620
1768
4000
828
1288
1603
1816
1982

Source: Florida Statute 61.30

Child support and custody can be modified under Florida Statute Chapter 61. If your financial situation has changed, you are eligible to lower or increase the support you pay or receive.

If you have moved within the State, the law allows you to go to court in the county where you and your children live or go back to the original court. See Florida Statute 61.13(2)(c).

Many children are born out of wedlock in Florida every year. Often, the Department of Revenue hires an attorney for the custodial parent to seek support. If you are a man who receives such a petition, beware. Because the child support hearing officer has limited jurisdiction, you are not allowed to request visitation or custody ofhe child unless you file a counter-petition that requests visitation or custody. Thousands and thousands of parents are required to support their children but have no right to see them as a result of this little known law.

Once you receive a final judgment in divorce, be careful. Some types of things are enforceable by contempt before the original divorce judge. For such things, the divorce judge has the power to jail the person who willfully failed to comply with the court's order. Contempt items include child support, alimony and attorneys' fees. Other things, such as orders to pay credit cards and other debts simply allow for the filing of a new lawsuit to obtain a money judgment against the non-complying spouse.

Moral: Not all divorce orders are alike; know the difference between contempt and non-contempt enforcement before you sign or agree to anything in a divorce proceeding.

Do you know what your retirement plan balance was on the date you got married? The date you were married, the date the divorce was filed and the date you were separated from your spouse are important dates in divorce court. Florida courts generally allow you to keep the value of property you owned on the date of your marriage. All other property will be "equitably divided" using the value of the property on the date of separation or the date the petition for dissolution of marriage was filed.

Corporate wives can now collect their "fair share". In the famous Wendt v. Wendt case the court ruled that Mrs. Wendt was entitled to one-half of Mr. Wendt's assets that were earned during the course of the marriage up to the date of separation. Money earned and saved by Mr. Wendt after separation were not subject to a 50/50 distribution but were instead given to Mr. Wendt.

The Wendt case stands for the proposition that monies to be earned in the future, such as deferred bonuses, should not divided on a 50/50 basis. For example, Mr. Wendt was given 100% of all deferred salary amounts for earnings that he would have in the future. The court focused on deciding what portions of Wendt's property were already earned versus those that would be earned in the future. Assets already earned during the marriage are generally divided equally under Florida law. See Florida Statute 61.075.

After the Florida Supreme Court ruling in Connor v. Southwest Florida Regional Medical Center, 668 So.2d 175 (Fl. Sp.Ct. 1995), a spouse is no longer responsible for her husband's necessaries of life, such as medical expenses. Therefore, if your spouse has a large medical bill and you are contacted by a physician for payment, you are not required to pay this bill under unless you signed an agreement to do so.

How do divorce judges decide a case involving property? Under Florida Statute 61.075, Florida's divorce judges are required to go through the following two step process in deciding who gets what in a divorce:

a. The court first makes a "equitable distribution" of assets accumulated during the marriage.

b. The court then decides what alimony is appropriate given the distribution of assets made by the court.

Children born in a second marriage will not reduce your child support for children born of a first marriage. Credit for the support of future children is not credited in calculating support owed for earlier children. Later born children, however, have their child support reduced by the amount paid to the earlier children. The message the Florida Legislature is sending is that one should think carefully before having additional children when there is an obligation to support a child from a prior relationship.

Why is it that fathers don't pay their child support? A survey was recently conducted in Illinois of fathers who didn't pay their child support. Here are the reasons for non-payment of child support:

No money to pay 38%
Not allowed to visit 23%
No control over spending 14%
Did not want the child 13%
I am not the father 12%

5. WEIRD LAWS YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF

Florida Statute 817.566 makes it a misdemeanor in Florida for any person to misrepresent his academic standing. It is also a crime to alter any degree, certificate or diploma. Be careful when you prepare your resume.

Florida Statute 817.565 makes it a crime to distribute, sell or advertise any substance that alters the outcome of a urine test. The same statute makes it a crime to alter the outcome the urine test.

Florida Statute 817.567 makes it a crime to state to anyone that you possess an academic degree when it is not true. It is also a crime to claim that you are a "doctor" when, in fact, no doctorate degree has been earned.

In the country of Afghanistan, it is illegal to shave your beard. It is also illegal to carry women passengers in a taxi. A special police force in the capital of Afghanistan called the Department for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice has punished 16 men for not growing a beard and has further punished taxi drivers who were caught allowing women to ride in taxicabs.

Under the laws of Afghanistan, women can be imprisoned for failing to wear a veil that covers their entire body from head to toe.

Florida Statute 316.2953 and 316.2954 have restrictions on window tinting. Specifically, side windows cannot have sunscreen materials that block out more than 25% of the light. Other restrictions apply to front and back windows and to multi-passenger vehicles.

Florida Statute 316.251 limits the maximum bumper height on pickup trucks. Vehicles weighing more than 3,000 pounds but less than 5,000 pounds must not have a front bumper higher than 28 inches or a rear bumper higher than 30 inches.

6. BE CAREFUL WHEN FILING FOR INSURANCE CLAIMS IN 1998

Many parents of teenage drivers are paying small claims out of their own pockets rather than making a claim. They don't want insurance companies to cancel their insurance policies. Before you fail to report an accident, verify the following:

No one was injured.

The accident was your fault.

You hit a stationary object such as a tree or parked car.

Property damage was minor.

Be careful that you do disclose the accident if you are questioned about it by your insurance company. The failure to disclose the accident may itself be a basis for cancelling your insurance. Fisher's Law Office advises clients to report all accidents to their insurance companies.

7. 1998 MAY BE THE YEAR TO SELL YOUR HOUSE

Under a little known change in the federal tax law, up to $500,000.00 in gains from houses are exempt from all federal tax. For single people, the exclusion is up to $250,000.00 in gains. If you own a house with large gains, you may want to consider selling it now tax free before the law changes again.

8. WEIRD CASE OF THE MONTH

A 15 year old girl in Chicago spent her entire life watching television. This past October 16th, she went to school for the first time! Although she knew her ABC's and the days of the week, she was otherwise illiterate and uneducated. She was put into the 8th grade. Source: AP wire.

9. ARE YOU READY FOR RETIREMENT?

The first thing you should do in preparing for retirement is to request an earnings benefit estimate statement from the social Security Administration. Call 1-800-772-1213 and ask for Form SSA-7004. The Social Security Administration will give you an estimate of your social security benefits after you fill out and return the form.

10. CONSIDER GETTING AN IRA

Individual Retirement Arrangements allow eligible workers to save up to $2,000.00 a year towards retirement. There are many types of IRA'S but the most popular one allows an income tax deduction for the contribution and tax deferred compounding of the balance. Everyone eligible should contribute an IRA every year.

11. HERE ARE SOME INTERESTING STATISTICS ABOUT INCOME IN FLORIDA

Florida's per capita income stands at $24,104.00. This is the 20th highest in the U.S. and is 99% of the nationwide average. 16.2% of all Floridians were living in poverty as of 1995. Florida spends $5,355.00 on each public school pupil per year which represents 95% of the national average for school spending. Source: Wall Street Journal, December 3, 1997.

12. HOW HIGH IS YOUR CREDIT RATING?

Here are the top five criteria credit card companies use to rank your credit:

a. Delinquencies. Have you paid your bills on time? How many times were you late on your loan payments? This factor is given the greatest weight.

b. Amount of Debt. How much do you owe? The more you owe, the lower your credit rating.

c. Credit History. The length of time you've used credit tells credit card companies whether or not you have a good track record using credit.

d. Credit Inquiries. How often to you allow others to see your credit report? Too many inquires can hurt your credit rating.

e. What kind of credit do you have? A mix of credit cards and car loans or mortgages gives you a higher credit rating than credit cards alone.