Thursday, September 30, 2021

Components of a Divorce Case

            In June, I wrote about filing for divorce and what occurs during the process. In this blog, I want to take a moment to delve deeper into some of the components of a divorce proceeding and explain how they may affect and play a role in your case.

            A few areas that I would like to highlight are: financial affidavits, marriage settlement agreements, parenting plans, and things you cannot do during the course of a divorce.

Financial Affidavit

            A financial affidavit helps make the divorce process as smooth as possible. It ensures that both parties are aware of all assets and debts that exist. Florida requires that both parties complete a financial affidavit. You should discuss any questions or concerns you may have about the financial affidavit with your attorney. Generally, finances and documents that will be discussed are:

-          Business tax returns, if applicable;

-          Personal tax returns;

-          Documentation of income, which could be in the form of paystubs;

-          Loan applications or financial statements prepared within the past year;

-          Six months of statements from your bank account;

-          The most recent statements from any retirement savings accounts;

-          Real estate documents, including land titles, promissory notes, or leases;

-          Proof of health and dental insurance for you, your children, and/or your spouse;

-          Proof of life insurance policies, if applicable; and

-          All debt statements from the prior three months (e.g. credit card statements).

Marital Settlement Agreement

            In Florida divorce proceedings, parties may attend mediation or resolve matters outside of court, in which case a marital settlement agreement, signed by both parties is required. These agreements are meant to equitably divide a couple’s assets and liabilities and once completed, become a binding contract. Each agreement needs to be as specific and clear as possible.

            In Florida, a marital settlement agreement will specify which spouse (if any) receives alimony, real property (house, condo, and apartment), any cars and/or boats, how bank accounts will be divided, and the division of any other assets that are deemed to be marital property.

            In addition, both parties must come to an agreement regarding division of all of their liabilities (i.e., Student loan, car loan, and credit card debts).  These agreements are specific to each individual case and may vary greatly. 

            Importantly, the parties may only reach an agreement on some of the issues, resolving them, and taking the remaining issues to trial. 

Parenting Plan

            A parenting plan is meant to describe the role of each parent and how they will fulfill that role in the child/children’s daily life. Parenting plans are meant to provide for the best interests of the child. In Florida, there are a number of items that a parenting plan must include.

-          Time sharing. This item describes when/how much time the child will spend with each parent. A number of reasonable schedules for time sharing are allowed, so long as both parents are allowed to have time with the child.

-          School designation. This item simply identifies which parent’s address will be used for school registration. Choosing which parent’s address to use will then affect the time sharing and it is important to discuss your options.

-          Methods of communication. This item deals with how parents and children will communicate. It is an item that must be known to both parents as well as the court. Options for communication can include: Skype, text, phone calls, and FaceTime.

-          Provision of health care. The plan needs to identify how healthcare will be provided (i.e., Which parent’s health insurance will be used for the medical care). It is also important to note that while either parent can consent to mental health sessions/evaluations, both parents must consent to any mental health medication/treatment.

Parents are both required to take, and show proof of, a parenting class before completing the divorce process. You can discuss how to go about finding and completing the class with your attorney.

Things you CANNOT Do

            You should always seek the advice of an attorney and consult with them before making any drastic life changes. Doing so without seeking advice or disregarding legal advice can have serious implications on you and your divorce case.

-          Don’t hide your assets or money. This could lead to serious legal problems and you could be liable for fraud.

-          Don’t rely on advice from friends and family. It is always better to rely on the advice of a lawyer. While your friends and family may mean well, their advice should not be something that you rely on when taking actions during your divorce.

-          Don’t take it out on your children. Children should never be used as bargaining tools, and you should not try to make them think negatively about your spouse. This will only hurt your relationship with them and the court may not look at this favorably when it comes to discussing the parenting plan.

-          Don’t take it to social media. Anything you say online can hurt your case and be used against you, especially if you say things in anger or make frivolous accusations. Stay off Facebook and Twitter when it comes to your divorce and parenting issues.

A divorce can be chaotic and stressful but knowing what is required of you and your spouse can be incredibly helpful in making the process as smooth and amicable as possible. While all of this information may sound daunting, Marcie would be happy to sit down with you for a free consultation to determine the best path for your case and answer any questions or concerns that you may have.

***The information in this blog is meant to be informational only and does not constitute any legal advice. Should you have any questions about divorce proceedings or its components, please do not hesitate to fill out our contact form below to schedule your free consultation.


Thursday, September 23, 2021

Prioritizing Mental Health in the Legal Profession

             It is very hard for me to explain law school to people who have never gone, or have never had any experience with the legal profession. Sure, I can explain the hundreds of pages I read a week, the 7500-word seminar paper I am writing, and my numerous extracurricular activities, but that only scrapes the surface. Only my classmates, professors, and lawyers that I work for truly understand the physical, mental, and emotional toll that law school has on a person.

            Imagine then, that this toll does not evaporate at graduation, but instead multiplies and carries over into your career as a lawyer. In school, you were worried about exams, advocacy competitions, and meeting deadlines - which are all incredibly important. But now, as a lawyer, the day-to-day decisions you make can completely alter the lives of the clients you serve, forever changing them, and not always in a positive way.

            You would think, given the extreme amount of stress and pressure that is placed on law students and lawyers alike, there would be a safety net to ensure that stress, anxiety, and burnout do not consume their lives. Sadly however, this is a slowly progressing area, battling the stigma that comes with mental health and asking for help. Many law students and lawyers battle mental health issues, but either do not seek help, or are afraid that disclosing their problems will adversely affect others perceptions of them and their capabilities, and ruin their reputation as a lawyer

            To illustrate my point, and to show that this is a nationwide issue, here are some statistics from the Dave Nee Foundation:

  •  Depression among law students is 8-9% prior to matriculation, 27% after one semester, 34% after 2 semesters, and 40% after 3 years.
  • Stress among law students is 96%, compared to 70% in med students and 43% in graduate students.
  • Entering law school, law students have a psychological profile similar to that of the general public. After law school, 20-40% have a psychological dysfunction.
  • Lawyers are the most frequently depressed occupational group in the US.
  • Lawyers rank 5th in the incidence of suicide by occupation.

These statistics should shock and worry you. As a law student, they certainly concern me, both for myself and my fellow classmates. As I said above, the recognition of mental health issues are slowly being integrated, but the stigma around them continues and makes it hard for people to come forward.

The stigma not only makes it hard for lawyers to ask for help, but it can actually turn away prospective law students from even applying to school. In my Public Health Seminar, a fellow student shared that she knew people who simply didn’t apply because schools and even the Florida Bar ask about any previous or current mental health issues. When applying for the Character & Fitness evaluation on the Florida Bar the application asks whether if, in the last 5 years, you have been treated for or experienced: schizophrenia or any other psychotic disorder, a bipolar disorder, or major depressive disorder that has impaired or could impair your ability to practice law?

That is a heavy question, and I could certainly understand why it would cause concern for some people, who fear if they disclose mental health treatment this will then inhibit them from following their dreams of becoming a lawyer. It goes back to the problem of viewing mental health as a taboo topic, and if you struggle with it you are an outlier, when in fact that is not the reality at all.

So how do we change the narrative? Well, luckily in 2019, the Florida Bar revised its mental health questions in order to help the prevalence of students avoiding seeking/disclosing treatment due to the application questions. In addition to that, mental well-being and lawyer health needs to be prioritized in all law schools, law firms, and bar associations to help destigmatize mental health issues as well as provide adequate resources to help those that are struggling. In 2020, the Florida Bar added one of those resources by opening a mental health hotline for eligible bar members to seek crisis intervention or a referrals. (833-351-9355). 

There has also been a push for law firms to offer free counseling, especially for those lawyers who are in practice areas with emotionally demanding work like homicide, child abuse, and human rights issues. Additionally, lawyers are speaking up about changing the culture of law firms themselves to have a focus on wellbeing in addition to growth, productivity, and success. This is proving to have some success. According to The Conversation, “The charity LawCare, which provides a helpline for legal professionals to discuss issues of well-being, has seen an increase in the number of calls to their service in recent years – an 11% increase from 2016-2017 and a further 5% increase from 2017-2018.”

These are all positive trends and I hope that they will continue and grow. I am thankful that Stetson provides us with a number of mental health and support resources, and that several of my professors have made it a reoccurring topic of discussion in class. It is my hope that my colleagues and I can forge a new path for all current and future lawyers where mental health is treated as normally as having a headache or allergies. Not something to be afraid of, but rather something that needs treatment, care, and understanding.

 Until we recognize how common mental health issues are, and that there is no reason for them to be taboo, we will not be able to destigmatize them and help those who truly need it - but have been made to feel too afraid to admit it or ask for help.

***The thoughts and opinions in this blog are entirely my own. I have attributed any outside material that I gathered to the sources below. If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health issue, please reach out for help. (1-800-273-8255)***


Thursday, September 16, 2021

Delving Deeper into Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

In July, I wrote a blog discussing the basics of bankruptcy and offered some insight into the world of Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This week, I am going to go deeper into the nitty gritty of Chapter 7 bankruptcy and what it can mean for your claim.

            A quick refresher. Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the most common and shortest type of bankruptcy that you can file. After filing, your case will be appointed a trustee who will oversee your case.

            An often overlooked, but incredibly important, aspect of Chapter 7 bankruptcy are the exemptions involved. There are some specific things to keep in mind when filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Florida:

-          Most homestead property are exempt, with a few exceptions.

o   If not claiming the homestead exemption then the personal property exemption is $4000.00, per debtor, if claiming it is $1000 per debtor.

-          There is an additional small exemption for vehicles.

-          Florida has many personal property exemptions. To name a few:

o    Personal property can include items like furniture, art, and electronics.

o   Education savings, health savings, and hurricane savings. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 222.22)

o   Prepaid medical savings account and health savings account deposits

-          Florida also has many pension exemptions:

o   Tax-exempt retirement accounts, including 401(K)s, 403(b)s, profit-sharing and money purchase plans, SEP and SIMPLE IRAs, and defined benefit plans and traditional and Roth IRAs. These are fully exempt.

o   Teachers' retirement benefits.

o   State and County officers and employees retirement system benefits.

As always, it is important to be aware of the pros and cons when you find yourself in a situation concerning Chapter 7 bankruptcy.


1.)    A clean slate. Once your bankruptcy discharge is granted, you now have the opportunity to rebuild your credit and work toward achieving a better credit score.

2.)    Immediate relief. Once your case is filed in bankruptcy court, an automatic stay will be triggered which will then protect you from the creditors who have been after you.

3.)    You’ll be able to keep more than you think. As discussed above the law protects certain exempted property, and if it meets this requirement, then you do not lose it by filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy.


1.)    Means Test. There are income limitations to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. It is important to know what these limits are before filing. Certain incomes are not included (ie. Social Security).

2.)    Not protecting others. Filing for Chapter 7 eliminates your obligation. Filing does not mean that other friends and family members will also have their obligation eliminated. Again, that is an issue for Chapter 13, an area that The Law Office of Marcie Baker does not handle.

3.)    Unsecured debts. There are certain debts that can never be discharged by filing for bankruptcy. Child support and alimony are two of them. Additionally, certain student loans are also never discharged so be sure to discuss any, and the types, that you have with your attorney. Be sure that you are aware of the debts/money that you will still owe, despite filing for bankruptcy.

As I have said before, bankruptcy law does not require that you have an attorney, however, it is in your best interest to hire one in order that you can make sure that the proceedings are being handled clearly/fairly. The Law Office of Marcie Baker would be happy to meet with you for a free consultation to address any of your needs and concerns and work to help you in the best way that we can.

***The information in this blog post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute any form of legal advice. If you have questions regarding Chapter 7 bankruptcy please fill out our contact form below to schedule a free consultation.***


Thursday, September 9, 2021

Mediation: An Alternative to the Courtroom

            Have you heard about mediation? If so, do you know what mediation really means? According to Black’s Law Dictionary mediation is, “Intervention; the act of a third person who interferes between two contending parties with a view to reconcile them or persuade them to adjust or settle their dispute.” Mediation can be used in several types of legal cases such as: personal injury, breach of contract, real estate dispute, and family law issues. Marcie is a certified Family Law mediator in the state of Florida, and integrates that practice in to the services that she provides in addition to the three practice areas in which she serves clients.

            While mediation is a nationwide practice, here is what you can expect during a family law mediation in the state of Florida.

-          Many Florida counties have mediation offices at the courthouse, but there is also the option to conduct a private mediation. Which route you go will be discussed between you and your attorney.

-          The parties in the case are separated into different rooms during the mediation. This is called a “caucus.” The mediator will travel between the two rooms to discuss thoughts, feelings, and options, and the mediator will try to find them some sort of middle ground that benefits both parties.

-          If both parties manage to resolve their issues at mediation, then the mediator will prepare an agreement at the conclusion of mediation for both parties to sign.

-          However, if both parties fail to reach an agreement and the issues are not resolved, then the mediator will declare an impasse and inform the court that the case has not been resolved.

-          Finally, it is important to know that everything said at mediation is privileged. What is said in mediation cannot be repeated outside of mediation.


1.)    Mediation allows parties to resolve their issues more quickly, sometimes in a matter of hours. This is much faster than a regular divorce which can span anywhere from six months to several years.

2.)    Mediation is much more peaceful than battling your divorce out in court.

3.)    One of the best advantages of mediation is that you have complete control over the course of your case. Rather than going in front of a judge who makes a decision for both spouses, you instead have the option to discuss and compromise on what’s best for you without ever needing a judge to intervene.


1.)    If couples are not willing to compromise and/or the divorce has been a contentious one, then these feelings of resentment will likely mean mediation is a waste of time since no compromise is likely to be reached.

2.)    Many decisions, though not all, of mediation still require court approval. While this is generally not a problem, it is important to know that not every agreement made in mediation is enforceable.

3.)    It is important to choose a mediator who is both well-trained and unbiased. While all have to go through the proper training, it is still important to choose one that is best for your case.  Just as all divorce cases are different, so are mediators.  That is why an experienced attorney can help select the best mediator for their client.  

4.)    Ultimately the choice to mediate voluntarily is up to you.  In Florida most courts mandate mediation, and with very few exceptions, the parties must at least attempt to resolve their issues through mediation.   The process has proven very successful. Your attorney can explain the process to you, as well as help you evaluate all of your options based on the facts of your case. Mediation is not for everyone, but it can never hurt to explore all of your options, and hopefully resolve your case in the best way possible.

***The facts and opinions in this blog are meant to be informative only and in no way constitute legal advice. Should you have questions or want to learn more about mediation, please fill out our contact form below to schedule a free consultation with Marcie.


Thursday, September 2, 2021

It's Time to Stop Overlooking Female Lawyers


            I remember the exact day that I found out I had been accepted to Stetson Law and would be able to pursue my dream of becoming a lawyer. And while that memory is clear in my mind, an event that followed has stuck with me even more, and not in a positive way.

            I had been talking with an acquaintance about my recent acceptance and was sharing my joy when he said, “well you’re too nice to be a lawyer, plus that’s a male dominated profession.” I may only be 5’ 3”, but that incident got me angry enough to feel like I could defeat a giant with my bare hands.

            Sadly, I am not the first, and certainly will not be the last woman to be told she can’t do something because she’s “not a man.” Despite the numerous hurdles overcome, a profession where gender inequality is still extremely prevalent is the legal profession. I encountered many sexist and misogynistic comments when I served as a Records Clerk at a law firm that ranged from “women belong in the kitchen,” and “well it’s understandable that you’re emotional since you’re a woman.” What’s worse, I witnessed the male lawyers speaking the same way about the female lawyers in the office when they were out of earshot.

            If you think that my experiences are rare, and that it may be different for a law student than an actual lawyer, let me share a few anecdotes from Marcie:

  • -          "I have been practicing law for 25 years and in the early years I would often be mistaken as the court reporter, when I appeared for depositions, simply because I am a woman.   Sadly, this still happens upon occasion."
  • -          "When I was the managing partner of a law firm 16 years ago, and the firm was buying the building, the banker always called my male partner with any questions, even though I was the one he needed to speak with.  Needless to say, I no longer use that bank for my business. " 
  • -          "Prejudices run deep in everyone and Women have to fight hard to overcome them, at the same time performing a balancing act not to be seen as “angry”.   Men are aggressive and women are “B-----y” even though they may assert the same legal position."

            The legal world was shaken with appointments of Janet Reno as the first female Attorney General, and Sandra Day O’Connor as the first female Supreme Court justice. Finally, women were being given the opportunity to make their mark on the legal world. We now have three female Supreme Court justices, many female governors and attorneys general, and our country’s first female Vice President. I look forward to seeing the United States elect its first female President and I cannot wait to see what the women of my generation and those after me do. But the struggle continues for women, even to this day.

            Women are beginning to outnumber men in terms of law school attendance. As of 2020, the percent of female students and faculty at Stetson is 54.1%. Of the 11 law professors I have had so far, 7 of them were women. While this may seem like a step in the right direction, the higher percentage of women does not carry over to careers post-law school.

            According to the 2020 census, women lawyers only made up for 37.4% of all lawyers nationwide. How can these disparities be explained?

  • 1.)    Women are leaving the legal profession at an alarmingly fast rate. This is due to a number of factors, such as child-rearing/lack of support and resources, dealing with sexism, and being looked over for promotions simply for being female.
  • 2.)    The American Bar Association states that by age 50, only 27% of lawyers are female, due to lack of diversity and inclusion, pay inequality, and inability to rise to higher job titles that men easily attain.
  • 3.)    Female lawyers have reported having fewer networking opportunities as well as having their male counterparts being given more desirable/noteworthy case assignments.
  • 4.)    What’s more appalling is that this happens even at the highest levels of our Justice System. The ABA reports, “The male justices on the United States Supreme Court interrupt the female justices three times as often as they interrupt each other during oral argument -- 65.9% of all interruptions on the Court were directed at women justices.” 

So, how do we begin to overcome these hurdles and break down barriers? Articles by Forbes and by the Harvard Businesses Review illustrate just a few ways:

      -Implement bias training. Unconscious bias can have a harmful effect on how women are treated in the workplace, and implementing a system to help recognize these biases will help people to understand and begin to address the gender inequality in their workplace.

      -Ensure that the law firm fosters a culture where economic growth and inclusive opportunities are linked through engaged leadership and transparent systems.

      -Take seriously reports of sexual harassment. Instead of brushing the accusations off, firms need to evaluate each report and determine the proper punishment/reprimand. Everyone, women especially, deserve to have their voices and concerns heard no matter how uncomfortable the situation. Doing so will help prevent them leaving the career, if they know they have a support system where their concerns can be heard and addressed.

      -Stop the narrative that women are “too nice” “can’t handle the workload,” and are “too emotional.” I know several women who I would gladly have in my corner because they are some of the hardest working, passionate people that I know. Those ideas are antiquated and simply untrue.

I am incredibly lucky to have strong female mentors both in law school, the workplace, at home, and beyond. I would not be the woman that I am today without them. But I know that others are not so lucky and are often left wondering if they are cut out to become a lawyer.

At the end of the day, we have to stop dividing the world into male and female lawyers. Lawyer is sufficient. We all went through the same training, schooling, and hard work, sweat, and tears, and each and every one of us is more than deserving of that title. In reality, we need to stop with the separation of male and female in ALL professions. The fight for gender equality is more of a marathon than a sprint, but it is my hope that we never stop fighting to achieve that equality that so many women before us dedicated their lives to fighting for.

***The thoughts and opinions in this blog are entirely my own. I have included referenced sources below.***




Time to Say Goodbye

Happy Thursday, all! Enjoy this upcoming long weekend and the unofficial start to summer! Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and to...