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An Overview Of Family Law Differences Amongst Counties In Florida

Interviewer: Which are the three counties that you serve in Florida?

Wendy Doyle: It’s Pasco County, Pinellas County and Hillsborough County. Pasco and Pinellas Counties are within the same circuit, the 6th Judicial circuit, but they’re different counties. I mean they have the same locale but I think they operate a little bit differently so really the difference, the two main differences are the 6th Judicial circuit which is Pinellas County and Pasco County and then Hillsborough County which is the 13th Judicial circuit but they’re basically very close, within 15 to 20 minutes of each other essentially.

The Basic Differences in Handling of Family Law Matters Amongst The Three Counties

Interviewer: What are some of the differences in how family law cases are handled in the 3 counties?

Wendy Doyle: Hillsborough I think, is different than other counties. I’ve worked in Manatee County which is the 12th judicial circuit and they’re actually more like the 6th judicial circuit. Hillsborough is large, they do things a little differently. Basically when you file your case, they send out immediately a notice to the case management conference and years ago they used to schedule these case management conferences just really quickly after the case was filed and it was difficult for attorneys to schedule because they basically had other stuff usually scheduled at a month or two. You know a busy good attorney is going to have a pretty full calendar so it is very hard to over these case management conferences.

Hillsborough County is More Active in Setting Up  Case Management Conference to Move the Cases Along

They do 3 months out and they don’t really like to reschedule them. They used to not let you reschedule them at all but they basically, Hillsborough is more active in seeing case management conferences so they want to move cases along. Pinellas County and Pasco County do not do that at all. Basically, they don’t set a case management conference until the case has been sittingfor a while. If there is no activity, then they’ll schedule one. I think that’s actually a better practice because sometimes you go over the case management conferences in Hillsborough and it’s really you don’t get anything accomplished sometimes and it just wastes the parties time and their money. And it blocks off the judges calendar time. So that’s one of the biggest differences so the judges all have different rules.

In Florida State there is a Mandatory Disclosure Requirement for Family Law Cases

Basically Pinellas County has a local rule and that’s a motion to compelto, before you file a motion to compel, getting discovery, you have to send a good faith letter and that’s actually in their local rules, but it’s not in Hillsborough. I think everybody has pretty much in Florida has a basic practice of sending out a good faith letter to the opposing party or opposing council. Therefore they file motion to compel discovery because here in Florida what we have is the mandatory disclosure requirement, I don’t know if we have it in other states but in Florida we have a mandatory disclosure requirement and what a lot of attorney’s don’t know about mandatory disclosure, because I’ve been dealing with it for a long time now.

The Mandatory Disclosure Rule Asks for 3 Years of Bank Statements, a Financial Affidavit, Income Statements,Bank Statements, and Loan Documents

Basically the mandatory disclosure rule was put in place of having to have attorneys send out discovery request. A lot of lawyers don’t know this so immediately send out interrogatories and a request to producewhich asks for a lot more documentation than is required in the mandatory disclosure list And then I think they do that because they don’t really realize that that’s the mandatory disclosure rule is there for. Mandatory disclosure means it’s mandatory, everybody has to do it and it is under rule 12.285 and it basically says you have to provide your 3 years of bank statements, a financial affidavit, your income statements like your pay-check for 3 months, and your bank statements, and loan documents. There is a whole list that falls under 12.285

Not All Family Law Cases Require an Interrogatory Questionnaire in Florida

So, that basically, like I said that rule was put in place to be in place of discovery. So that’s what this whole good faith letter that I’m talking about, that’s what that is regarding.Pinellas has that as a local rule. It’s not in the local rules in Hillsborough but pretty much, like I said, everybody does it any way. Following up a little bit more on discovery, basically, not all cases require an interrogatory questionnaire. Not all cases where I have to ask for 4 years of bank statement and discovery but like I said, a lot of lawyers just don’t really know what the mandatory disclosure rules were put in place for. And it is literally so that you don’t have to do that and it’s not required. You may only need that limited discovery in some cases. Not all cases require it. So that’s what that local rule is about as far as the good faith letter.

If A Magistrate’s Ruling Does Not Conform with the Laws, it Can be Appealed to a Circuit Judge in Hillsborough County

Another really big difference with Hillsborough is what I’ve run into recently is if a case has been sent to a general magistrate, and I don’t have a problem going to a general magistrate, I mean, most of them do a good job. I think they are even a little bit more nervous about following rules and laws because here in Florida if you have a case that goes to a general magistrate, if they do something that is outside what you consider the law or the bounds of law, basically you can appeal it to the circuit judge. So all you have to do is if the general magistrate does something which you think is completely not, does not conform with the law, you do what is called abdication to the general magistrate ruling and then you go before the judge. I think they’re pretty good, they’re pretty detailed in trying to follow things.

Attorneys Must be Aware of the Differences in Nuances Between the Three Counties

They listen to your arguments, they are usually pretty courteous. I think they do a good job but in Hillsborough, the difference is the 6th judicial circuit is once a case has been referred to the general magistrate, every time you file a motion, you have to also file a motion for referral to the general magistrate to the judge and send the judge an order for every motion and every issue that comes up instead of just having a blanket referral.It’s really, I don’t understand really why they have that in place but they do have that in place and I just helped somebody in contempt basically that a month and a half ago he didn’t do what he was supposed to do so then opposing council tried to bring exception on sanctions because I got sanctions awarded and opposing council tried to file an exception and of course I filed another motion for contempt and everybody had to do, a motion for referral to the general magistrate on all three of these other motions. In Hillsborough, it’s very different than the 6th judicial circuit and attorneys have to really be aware of the differences in nuances.

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