Deciding to Divorce: Insights for First Responders

Divorce is often a complex and emotionally challenging process, but when one or both spouses are firefighters or law enforcement officers, additional unique hurdles can arise. Let’s explore some of these issues:

Shift Work and Scheduling

One of the primary challenges faced by firefighters and law enforcement officers navigating the divorce process is irregular work schedules. Many emergency service jobs involve long shifts with even longer breaks on a repeating cycle. For example, many firefighters, paramedics and EMTs work 24-hour shifts followed by 48 hours off. Such scheduling irregularities can affect timesharing schedules during divorce, requiring thoughtful planning to ensure fair and feasible parenting plans maximizing the time the parties’ children can spend with each parent. Being flexible and working together can help parties reach the best timesharing schedule for their family.

Pension and Retirement Benefits

Many firefighters and law enforcement officers are entitled to pension and retirement benefits governed by specific regulations. Divorce can impact these benefits, requiring careful evaluation and negotiation to ensure equitable distribution of assets and financial support post-divorce. Legal expertise in dealing with pension plans and retirement benefits is essential for achieving fair outcomes in these cases.


Firefighters and law enforcement officers often encounter traumatic events and high-stress situations in their work. Divorce proceedings can often lead to heightened emotional stress. Addressing these emotional aspects during divorce negotiations and being cognizant of these issues is crucial for creating a productive environment conducive to amicable resolution of family law matters.

Physical Risks and Insurance Considerations

Another critical aspect to consider is the physical risks associated with these professions. Firefighters and law enforcement officers often put themselves in harm’s way to protect others, leading to potential injuries. During divorce, issues related to health insurance coverage, disability benefits, and workers’ compensation may arise, requiring specialized legal expertise to ensure fair and comprehensive settlements.

Legal Expertise and Understanding

Given the unique challenges faced by spouses in emergency services, seeking legal counsel experienced in family law and familiar with the intricacies of these professions is crucial. A knowledgeable attorney can provide guidance tailored to the specific needs and circumstances of firefighters and law enforcement officers, helping navigate the divorce process with empathy and expertise.

In conclusion, divorces involving spouses in emergency services present distinct issues that require specialized attention and understanding. Addressing these challenges effectively involves comprehensive legal support and a focus on fair and practical solutions. By acknowledging these unique aspects, Johnson Ritchey Family Law can better advocate for our clients in these professions and their spouses, ensuring a smoother transition through the divorce process.
For more information on first responder divorce, please visit our Firefighter and Law Enforcement Divorce page.

Celebrating Marissa Gart’s Promotion to Partner at Johnson Ritchey Family Law

We are excited to announce that Marissa Gart has been promoted to Partner at Johnson Ritchey Family Law, effective April 2024. Marissa’s dedication and expertise in marital and family law have been instrumental in our firm’s success, and we are thrilled to see her take on this new role.

A native of Boca Raton, Florida, Marissa graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Science in English. She continued her academic journey at the University of Miami School of Law, where she earned her Juris Doctorate.

Marissa’s legal career began as a criminal defense attorney at the Law Office of the Public Defender in Broward County, Florida, where she gained valuable experience in handling complex cases. Her areas of experience are far-reaching, including dissolution of marriage, negotiation of timesharing agreements, distribution of assets and liabilities, alimony, prenuptial agreements, child support, and collaborative divorce. Not only an expert in family law, Marissa has litigated criminal defense, insurance defense, and employment law matters.

Marissa is known for her client-focused approach, emphasizing efficiency and productivity. She is committed to educating her clients, strategizing together, and keeping them informed about their options as their cases progress.

Outside of her legal practice, Marissa is actively involved in the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce and the South Palm Beach County Bar Association. She also supports Lawyers for Israel and the Jewish National Fund, demonstrating her commitment to community service and philanthropy.

We congratulate Marissa on this well-deserved promotion and look forward to her continued contributions to Johnson Ritchey Family Law. Her expertise, dedication, and client-centered approach make her an invaluable asset to our firm.

Who Gets the Dog?

Recently I was in a mediation with my client.  It was getting late, we were getting very close to settling everything, and everyone was exhausted.  We were just about to wrap up the final loose ends when my client blurted out “I want the dogs.”  There had been zero discussion about the dogs in the previous 10 hours of mediation.  I could see the frustration on the mediator’s faceas she thought her next caucus with the other side would be the last and we would be finalizing the settlement agreement for execution.  It did not work out that way.  It took quite a few more hours of agonizing, emotionally charged, and, quite frankly, heart breaking negotiations.

Our furry friends are so important to us.  However, in Florida, as in many other states, pets are considered mere chattel and not a part of the family that would raise questions about who gets custody of them after a divorce.  One person will be awarded the pet just like a piece of furniture, a car, or other personal property.  While this may seem impersonal given the emotional attachment many people have to their pets, it provides a framework for resolving disputes over pet custody in a divorce.

When determining who gets custody of a pet in a divorce, Florida courts may consider several factors, including:

  • Identifying the Primary Caregiver: Courts may consider which spouse primarily cared for the pet during the marriage, including responsibilities such as feeding, grooming, and veterinary care.
  • Level of Emotional Attachment: Courts may take into account the emotional bond between each spouse and the pet, as well as any special needs or considerations related to the pet’s well-being.

Thankfully, there are options couples going through a divorce in Florida when attempting to resolve disputes over pet custody:

  1. Negotiation and settlement: Spouses can negotiate a mutually agreeable arrangement for sharing custody of the pet, taking into account each party’s ability to care for the pet and their respective living situations. NOTE the Court cannot order this option so the couple must agree to it.
  2. Court Intervention: If spouses are unable to reach an agreement on pet custody, they may ask the court to intervene and make a decision. In such cases, the court will consider the factors mentioned earlier and render a judgment awarding the pet to one or the other spouse.

In conclusion, the emotional stakes in pet custody disputes during divorce proceedings cannot be understated. The unexpected turn in my recent mediation, where a seemingly settled negotiation was disrupted by a heartfelt plea for the dogs, exemplifies this complex issue. Despite pets being viewed as property under the law, the depth of attachment and care they inspire in families necessitates careful consideration. In Florida, as in many states, courts may evaluate factors such as primary caregiving and emotional bonds when determining custody. Fortunately, couples have avenues for resolution, from amicable negotiations to court intervention if needed. While the legal framework may appear rigid, these options aim to provide a path forward that respects both the law and the profound relationships we share with our cherished companions. Ultimately, navigating pet custody requires sensitivity, compromise, and a recognition of the unique role pets play within our families.

Do I Need a Pre-nup?

In the realm of family law, the topic of pre-nuptial agreements (commonly referred to as pre-nups) often sparks debate and raises numerous questions. Many individuals wonder whether they truly need a pre-nup before tying the knot. In this blog, we’ll explore the intricacies of pre-nuptial agreements and help you determine whether getting one is the right choice for you.

Understanding Pre-nuptial Agreements

First and foremost, let’s clarify what a pre-nup is and what it entails. A pre-nuptial agreement is a legal contract made between two individuals before they get married. This agreement typically outlines how assets and debts will be divided in the event of divorce or death. Remember: A pre-nup is not a plan for what you have, it’s a plan for what you may have in the future.

Do You Need a Pre-nup?

The decision to get a pre-nup is highly personal and depends on various factors. Here are some scenarios in which obtaining a pre-nup might be advisable:

  1. Protecting Assets

If you or your partner have significant assets, such as real estate, investments, or business interests, a pre-nup can help safeguard these assets in the event of divorce. Without a pre-nup, these assets may be subject to division according to Florida’s marital property laws, which could result in an outcome that is less favorable to you.

  1. Clarifying Financial Responsibilities

A pre-nup can also clarify financial responsibilities during the marriage, including how expenses will be shared and whether one spouse will financially support the other in the event of divorce.

  1. Second Marriages

If you are entering into a second marriage and have children from a previous relationship, a pre-nup can help ensure that your children’s inheritance rights are protected.

  1. Business Ownership

If you own a business or are a partner in a business, a pre-nup can specify how the business will be treated in the event of divorce, helping to avoid potential conflicts and disruptions to the business operations.

While pre-nuptial agreements are not necessary for every couple, they can provide valuable protections and peace of mind, especially in situations involving significant assets, complex financial arrangements, or blended families. If you’re considering whether to get a pre-nup, it’s essential to consult with a qualified family law attorney who can assess your individual circumstances and help you make an informed decision.

In the end, the decision to get a pre-nup should be based on your unique situation, your financial goals, and your priorities as a couple. By carefully weighing the pros and cons and seeking professional guidance, you can make the choice that’s right for you and your partner.

Changes in Florida’s Natural Guardian Law and its Effects on Fathers

The State of Florida recently made a monumental change to its legal landscape with an amendment to Statute 744.301, a move that has major implications for fathers in Florida. This statutory change has stirred conversations regarding parental rights, familiar responsibilities, and the evolving dynamics of guardianship. Let’s explore its implications within the context of parental roles and obligations, particularly for fathers who are not married to their child’s mother. Previously, Florida Statute 744.301 designated the mother as the sole natural guardian, therefore relegating fathers to secondary position in matters of guardianship and parental rights. However, the recent amendment represents a paradigm shift, recognizing both parents as joint natural guardians by default.

For fathers, this statutory revision signifies a pivotal moment in the pursuit of equitable parental rights and responsibilities and a departure from outdated norms. It acknowledges he fundamental role fathers play in their children’s lives. By establishing joint natural guardianship, the law empowers fathers to assert their rights and actively participate in crucial decisions concerning their children’s upbringing, education, healthcare, and overall welfare Furthermore, the amended Florida Statute 744.301 underscores the importance of collaborative co-parenting, emphasizing the shared responsibility of both parents in nurturing and guiding their children. This shift aligns with contemporary understandings of child development, recognizing that children benefit most from meaningful relationships with both parents, regardless of marital status or living arrangements.

However, while the amendment represents a significant leap towards gender-neutral parental rights, challenges and concerns persist regarding its practical implementation and enforcement. Deep-seated societal biases and cultural stereotypes may pose barriers to fathers seeking to assert their newfound guardianship rights fully. Disparities in resources, living arrangements, and access to legal counsel may disproportionately affect certain fathers. Lastly, fathers will still have to take legal action to enforce their rights.

Moreover, its imperative to recognize that joint natural guardianship does not absolve parents of their responsibilities to prioritize the best interests of the child above all else. Factors such as domestic violence, substance abuse, or parental conflict must be carefully considered to ensure the safety and well-being of the children involved. While promoting shared parenting is commendable, its essential to strike a balance between parental rights and child protection, safeguarding vulnerable individuals from harm.

In conclusion, the amendment to Florida Statute 744.301 marks a significant milestone in the journey towards gender equality and parental parity within the legal system. By recognizing both parents as joint natural guardians, the law affirms the importance of paternal involvement in childrearing and challenges entrenches stereotypes that have long marginalized fathers in matters of guardianship and custody. However, realizing the full potential of this statutory revision requires ongoing efforts to address systemic barriers, promote parental cooperation, and prioritize children’s well-being above all else. As fathers navigate the complexities of co- parenting in the aftermath of this legislative change, their active engagement and commitment to their children’s upbringing will undoubtedly shape the landscape of family dynamics in Florida for generations to come.

Navigating the Path to Divorce: A Comprehensive Guide to Preparing for Your Legal Journey

The divorce process can often be a challenging time, both financially and emotionally. Proper preparation can make a significant difference in navigating the complexities of divorce proceedings. In this guide, we’ll explore essential steps for clients to consider before filing for divorce and how these preparations can positively impact their legal case.

Logistical Preparation

Gather important documents: Collect financial records, property deeds, tax returns, and any other relevant documents that may be required during divorce proceedings.

Create an inventory of assets and liabilities: Develop a comprehensive list of marital assets and debts to facilitate the property division process.

Pay attention to your monthly expenses to formulate a budget for both during and after the divorce.

Mental and Emotional Preparation

Seek emotional support: Finding friends and family who can provide a listening ear is often a huge asset during the dissolution process. Many people also find counseling or therapy to be very helpful in dealing with the stress and uncertainty often associated with divorce. A clear mindset can positively impact decision-making during legal proceedings.

Set realistic expectations: Understand the potential outcomes of the divorce and work towards accepting them. Realistic expectations can help manage stress and anxiety and often lead to a more efficient and reasonable resolution of your case.

Child Custody and Support Planning

Develop a parenting plan: Consider your children’s best interests when proposing a parenting plan. This can include timesharing schedules, holidays, and educational decisions. It is always a great step forward when parents can come together to resolve these issues for their children together.

Understand child support guidelines: Be aware of the factors that influence child support calculations and gather relevant information about your children’s needs.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Options

Explore mediation or collaborative divorce: Understand alternative methods for dispute resolution that can be less adversarial and more amicable, saving time and money in the process.

Protect Your Digital Presence

Change passwords: Secure your online accounts to protect sensitive information from potential misuse during the divorce proceedings.

Social media usage: Be mindful of your online presence and its potential impact on your case.

Legal Consultation

Be prepared to discuss your goals: Clearly communicate your desired outcomes for the divorce, including parenting issues, alimony, child support, and property division.

Research family law attorneys: Find an experienced family law attorney. Schedule a consultation to discuss your situation and understand your rights and obligations. The attorneys at Johnson Ritchey Family Law are experienced in mediation, collaborative divorce, and litigation.


By approaching the divorce process with careful consideration and thorough preparation, clients can empower themselves to face the challenges ahead. Seeking legal guidance early on and taking proactive steps in logistical, financial, mental, and emotional aspects can contribute to a smoother and more successful divorce outcome. Our family law office is here to support clients at every stage of this journey, providing strategic advice and advocacy to help them move forward with confidence.

Family Law Appeals: A Strategic Guide to Success

In the intricate realm of family law, appeals present a unique set of challenges. Navigating through the complexities of appellate procedures requires a strategic approach, deep legal insight, and a thorough understanding of the nuances within family law. In this blog post, we’ll explore the effective strategies that help lead to success in these cases.

Family law appeals often involve challenging decisions made at the trial court level. Whether it’s a dispute over child timesharing, parental responsibility, property division, alimony, child support, or any other aspect of family law, the appellate process provides an avenue for review and potential modification if an error is made at the trial level. Below we will look at the steps that go into an effective appeal.

Step 1 – Strategic Case Assessment: A successful family law appeal begins with a thorough assessment of the case history at the trial level. Your appellate attorney carefully reviews trial transcripts, evidence, and legal arguments that took place leading up to the entry of the order or final judgment being challenged in order to identify grounds for appeal. Identifying the most compelling grounds for appeal is paramount to success at the appellate level. Whether it’s an error in applying the law, an issue related to evidence, or a procedural misstep, there must be a thorough review of the case to pinpoint the strongest appellate arguments. This stage involves not only understanding the specific legal issues at hand but also evaluating the procedural aspects that may have influenced the trial outcome.

Step 2 – Timely Filing Motions for Rehearing and/or Notice of Appeal: Once grounds for appeal are identified, your appellate attorney will need to ensure all deadlines for filing a Motion for Rehearing, if necessary, and filing a Notice of Appeal are timely complied with. These deadlines must be strictly complied with in order to preserve your appellate rights. If you are considering appealing an order of final judgment, it is imperative to reach out to appellate counsel as soon as possible to ensure all deadlines are properly met. In a case where an appeal seems likely because of complex legal issues, it is often worthwhile to consult with appellate counsel prior to trial to determine the best way to preserve the issue for appeal even before the issues are ruled on. This can quite often enhance your chances for success on appeal.

Step 3 – Crafting a Persuasive Brief: The appellate brief is a critical component of the appeals process. Our legal team excels in crafting compelling and persuasive briefs that succinctly present the legal arguments, address errors made at the trial level, and advocate for our client’s position. We emphasize the importance of thorough research, precise legal writing, and a clear articulation of the law to maximize the chances of success. By identifying relevant case law, statutes, and legal principles that support our client’s position and building a solid legal foundation, it is our goal to enhance the persuasive power of our appellate briefs to lead to a successful appellate ruling.

Step 4 – Oral Advocacy: Beyond the written brief, oral arguments can play a crucial role in the appellate process. Our attorneys are skilled advocates who excel in presenting a persuasive case before the court. Effective communication, a deep knowledge of the case, and the ability to respond to judicial inquiries are frequently key elements in successful oral arguments.

Additional Steps Throughout the Process – Emphasizing Settlement Opportunities: While family law appeals are a powerful tool for seeking an equitable resolution of your family law matter, our approach also emphasizes pursuing potential settlement opportunities. We explore alternative dispute resolution methods, negotiate with opposing parties, and strive to achieve favorable outcomes without protracted litigation when possible.

In conclusion: In the realm of family law appeals, success is rooted in meticulous preparation, persuasive advocacy, and a nuanced understanding of both the legal and human aspects of each case. Johnson Ritchey Family Law stands committed to employing these strategies to successfully handle family law appeals for our clients.

Top 10 Tips to Save Your Marriage

I’m a divorce lawyer, but that doesn’t mean I like divorce.

I would love to see long, successful marriages where couples stay together, but the reality is that divorce is oftentimes inevitable. Your personal happiness should be a priority, so if divorcing your spouse will make you happier, I’m here to help you take a step in that direction. Life is too short to stay in an unhappy marriage.

However, if you think your relationship is salvageable, you and your partner can put in the work to save it. Based on my 18 years as a family law attorney, I have compiled a list of top 10 tips you can take to save your marriage.

  1. Travel apart, with friends. Traveling allows both spouses to build a sense of self as an individual and as a partner, and allows you to experience the joy in missing your spouse. Distance does make the heart grow fonder.
  2. Pre-nuptial Agreements. Often times discussions during pre-nup preparations sparks conversation between soon to be spouses about financial plans, beliefs, and habits. What does retirement look like for both of you? Have comprehensive life planning discussions in advance of your marriage.
  3. Listen to your spouse. It’s not about convincing, it’s about understanding.
  4. Acts of love. It’s the little things. Pick up a bouquet of flowers or their favorite snack at the grocery store.
  5. Say yes. Try to meet them halfway.
  6. Get off your phone and be present when speaking to each other.
  7. Hold hands, give hugs, maintain physicality.
  8. Say I love you.
  9. Make time for each other outside of your normal routine. Plan a date night for that new restaurant downtown or a weekend vacation out of town.
  10. Take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

The lawyers at Johnson Ritchey Family Law Firm have extensive experience in collaborative divorce, pre-nuptial agreements and post-nuptial agreements. Contact us today for more information.

Domestic Violence and Restraining Orders

Too often, a dissolution of marriage begins with an altercation of domestic violence. Domestic violence is defined as assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any other criminal offence resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member.

If somebody has been the victim of domestic violence or is an imminent threat or fear of becoming a victim of domestic violence, that person should file a petition for injunction against domestic violence in order to obtain a restraining order. The filing party must prove that he/she was either a victim of domestic violence or is in fear of an imminent threat of violence. To prove that a victim is in fear of an imminent threat of violence, that threat must be actual. It must be a threat that can be carried out.

When a party files a petition for injunction for protection against domestic violence, the court is required to set a hearing within 14 days – meaning that you, the petitioner, must be ready to prove the domestic violence within 2 weeks of filing. The court will also decide whether to issue a temporary restraining order against the accused offender, which would force him/her to vacate your residence. For anyone who has received a temporary restraining order, you must be prepared to defend yourself in order to avoid a final injunction for protection against you in favor of the petitioner.

The lawyers at Johnson Ritchey Family Law Firm have extensive experience in litigation with domestic violence matters. Contact us today.

Give Giving a Go

In one of my recent collaborative cases, the parties were stuck negotiating between two numbers. They were not far apart, certainly not far apart enough to warrant litigating or even mediating. They were stuck and dug into their positions. Our very experienced team with excellent professionals was having difficulty getting them to move from their dug-in trenches. The settlement facilitator had a private meeting with both spouses. She reported back that she allowed them to each voice their concerns, discuss their perception of why what he/she was asking was fair. Each of them was heard by the other. At the end of that meeting, she asked each of them to approach the rest of the process from a perspective of what he/she could give, rather than what he/she could ask of the other. By focusing on what each was able to give we were able to resolve the case. Interestingly we ended up on one of the parties number, but that party was able to give on other issues that made the resolution possible.

This case reminded me of the principles taught by Bob Burg and John David Mann in The Go-Giver. If you have never met Joe in this parable be sure to check it out to see what he learns on his journey to uncover the following five principles.

  • The Law of Value: Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment.
  • The Law of Compensation: Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them.
  • The Law of Influence: Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people’s interests first.
  • The Law of Authenticity. The most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself.
  • The Law of Receptivity: The key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving.

By focusing on theses principles and on what you can give rather than what you can get, you can achieve success in business and life in a much more fulfilling way than by being a go-getter. You do not have to accumulate wealth or possessions to give something to someone. Everyone has the ability to give. It could be as small as a smile or a helping hand. Even though we are in a service industry, a lot of times it is easy to forget we are here to serve.

I challenge everyone to think about what you can give– in your relationships at home or at work, in your practice with your clients, employees and other professionals. I anticipate the results will surprise and please you.