Interviewer: Legally, procedure and rules, are there any other differentiators between the three counties? Maybe in child custody arena or division of assets?
Wendy Doyle: No I don’t think so actually. The rest of the counties basically follow the law, really what it comes down to after those big differences and the counties and the procedural stuff is the judges. Every judge is different. You just really have to know your judge and how your judge feels about certain issues. You have to present your case in accordance to how you know your judge acts which is really where it comes in having an experienced attorney who has been before all these judges. That’s really what you really just have to know if you don’t know how your judge thinks. There’s a judge for instance, a lot of people have a hard time in St. Petersburg and he’s been on the bench for a long time.
You basically have to know what he’s focusing on because the counties are different, St. Petersburg, the different court houses are different. St. Petersburg and Clearwater are very different on what they focus on especially with child custody issues. I think St. Petersburg and Clearwater are starting to kind of come in line with each other, a littlemore and Tampa which is Hillsborough County is really not like Pinellas at all of how the judges think about. Custody, time sharing, Hillsborough court house is more, it’s easier to get 50 – 50 or address 50 – 50 time sharing.
St. Pete’s is Becoming More Open to 50-50 Time Sharing Because of Changes in the Statute
Now St. Petersburg is becoming more open to that, 50 – 50 because the statute is changed and really the movement is towards both parents having a lot of time sharing but it used to be that while Tampa or Hillsborough used to just pretty much routinely order 50 – 50 time sharing, the St. Petersburg judges would not. Because they felt that it was not in the child’s best interest. There were a couple of judges that would talk about psychologists.
They read a lot of psychologists take on 50 – 50 time sharing and they feel that it’s very difficult and taxing for a child to rotate every single week or even a couple of days from one parents house to the other parents house. The 50 – 50 time sharing is basically you’re splitting the baby in half essentially but I think now the understanding is that a lot of contact with both parents is really what is best for the kid. So they are sort of coming in line with that a little bit more.
St. Pete’s is More Apt To Order Parent Facilitation Programs to Deal with Pressing Issues
St. Petersburg which is lowerPinellas is more apt to orderparent facilitation program which I really do like in cases where there is conflict going on because I don’t believe the court system is really designed to help people. Really get to their issues what’s causing all the trauma and all the fighting and the disconnect, so they will order a parent facilitation program really fast. Clearwater will somewhat, Tampa won’t as much. But they have a social investigation, funded program over there whereas Pinellas County and Pasco County which is the 6th judicial circuit does not have parent facilitation paid program or social investigation funded program.
In Hillsborough County there is a Flat Cost and You Don’t Have to Pay to Have a Guardian Ad Litem
So you have to do it out of your pocket in the 6th judicial circuit. In Hillsborough County, it’s just a flat cost and you don’t have to pay out of your pocket, several thousand dollars to have a guardian ad litembut a social investigator does not help the parents, it’s not like a therapeutic session where they are sitting down one-on-one and helping them get through their issues.
Often times there are underlying issues that why people are mad at each other and why people are fighting over the kids. May not have anything to do with the other parent not being a good parent. It may not have anything to do with ‘I think I’m a better parent than you’. It may have everything to do from what I can see through all these years of doing this now is that often times they just have to do with a lot of old hurts and a lot of old angers.
There are a Lot of Differences in Family Law Process Between the Three Counties
Now when my clients walk in and they tell me that this person or this other parent has mental issues or they have some concerns, I always believe my client. I think a lot of attorneys have trouble with that. My experiences, when my client tells me there’s something wrong, I believe them and I litigate that way for them.So I would say there are a lot of differences between the counties. Not only how the judges operate. I think the judges in each court house get a collective consciousness. If one judge is going to do something in a certain way, then pretty much the judges kind of all think about things the same way. I think they talk.