Marriage, Divorce, Adoption, and Domestic Violence are all the centerpiece of MANY of our immigration cases. As such, this month I am honored to feature family law attorney extraordinaire, Rebecca M. Nuñez, for our SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to sit with us, Rebecca. First off, please tell our readers about yourself. What sort of cases do you handle in your practice?
A:Thank YOU so much for “spotlighting” me! I handle all kinds of family law cases; however, most of my current cases are divorces, timesharing (formerly known as “custody”), paternity (where the parties are the unmarried parents of at least one child), child support, and inter-family adoptions. I also act as Guardian Ad Litem – in those cases I am appointed to represent the best interest of children involved in family cases when the parties cannot agree on a given issue and the court needs more information to make a decision.
Q: What prompted you to become an attorney?
A: My grandfather was an attorney in Cuba before the revolution, and though that was my father’s dream to follow in his father’s footsteps, he was unable to pursue his dreams due to the Castro regime. Despite my family history, I never really considered becoming an attorney until after I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Shortly after graduation, I attended an open house at FIU Law, and I loved it. I took the LSAT right away and started law school that fall.
Q: What sort of cases are you most passionate about?
A: I have to say that the most impactful cases are those where I act as a Guardian Ad Litem. In those cases, I am either appointed by the presiding Judge or the attorneys agree to appoint me. My job is to investigate the facts of the case as well as the allegations made by both parties. In doing so I meet with the children, interview relevant parties (teachers, friends, family), and prepare a report and recommendations for the court in the best interest of the children. Those are the most rewarding cases because I experience firsthand what it’s like to speak on behalf of children that would never have a voice in a court proceeding that will ultimately determine their future and dictate how they are formed as individuals. It’s a privilege to have a hand in something so important.
Q: Do you find some of your clients are preoccupied with their immigration status in conjunction with divorce/dissolution proceedings?
A: Yes, often. When someone is here illegally, it’s often the first thing an angry ex-spouse threatens to use as leverage in a family case. Fortunately, family judges are used to those kinds of threats and do not take kindly to them. Immigration status isn’t usually an issue unless it’s directly relevant to an issue in the family case; status alone is not something that will negatively affect the court’s perception of a party in family court.
Q: Could immigration status be affected by a domestic violence injunction?
A: Some clients have concerns as to what effect, if any, domestic violence cases may have on their immigration status. Those cases can affect status…but the client should reach out to an immigration attorney to address any possible implications of family law cases on his or her immigration status.
Q: Should out of status individuals be afraid of appearing in family court?
A: Not at all. Family court judges are not generally concerned with immigration status, unless it directly affects an issue in the case (Ex: One parent wants or needs to relocate to his or her home country).
Q: Is a parent’s immigration status relevant in a child custody case? If so, how could it effect the case?
A: Immigration status is not a statutory factor to determine timesharing, nor does it reflect on a person’s ability to parent. The list of statutory factors that guide a judge’s timesharing determination are set forth in Florida Statute 61.13.
Q: What happens if a foreign national wants to divorce someone who is somewhere in their home country but they have no idea where or how to find them?
A: If someone in Florida truly has no idea where his or her spouse lives, it’s appropriate to serve the absent spouse with the petition for dissolution of marriage via publication. Service by publication requires a “diligent search,” which is accomplished by contacting various agencies in an attempt to discover the absent spouse’s whereabouts. If the absent spouse’s location is not discovered through the search, a divorce may be granted after publishing the petition for dissolution of marriage for four weeks after the diligent search has been completed. If, on the other hand, the absent person is discovered through the diligent search, that person must be served in accordance to the requirements of the country in which he or she resides. Some countries accept service of process via mail, making service of process simple. Other countries’ requirements for service of process, however, can end up being costly and can add a lot if time to have someone served. As an example, I have an active publication case in which service of process in accordance with the required country will take no less than one year!
Q: When a spouse “sponsors” you for immigration purposes, they are contracting with USCIS through their signature on the I-864 Affidavit of Support to support the foreign national at 125% of the federal poverty guidelines. Does this affect divorce proceedings as it relates to child support and alimony?
A: Child support is not likely to be affected, as it the obligation is based in statute and depends on the parties’ incomes and the overnight timesharing each party shares with the child(ren). Alimony, on the other hand, may be significantly affected by an Affidavit of Support. Alimony is decided based on one spouses “need” and the other spouse’s “ability to pay”. When the parties are before the court, one party usually has the need and the other argues there is no ability to pay. If a “needy” party is armed with an Affidavit of Support, it contradicts the argument that there is no ability, and the court can impute income and/or determine an amount of spousal support based on the previously-executed Affidavit. This is an area of the law that is still evolving.
Q: Sometimes a U.S. Citizen can adopt a minor that is under 16 years old in order to Petition for them as a child with immigration. What are the proper steps to initiate this action in family court?
A: Most often we see family members seeking to adopt children in order to Petition for them for immigration purposes. When this is the case, it is usually based on a family decision, and the biological parents tend to provide consent to the adoption, making the process faster, simpler, and less costly for the client. If the child is over the age of 12, he or she must also sign a consent. A Petition for Relative Adoption is filed with the required consents and additional paperwork and a final hearing is requested. Cases where there is a lack of consent may require additional hearings to terminate parental rights prior to entering the Final Judgment of Adoption.
Q: What do you like best about your work?
A: Family attorneys get a bad rap because of the overly-litigated divorces often portrayed in movies and media. Not to say those cases don’t exist, because they certainly do…but family attorneys are so much more. We are therapists, counselors, and officers of the court. My primary concern is always the child, whether I am representing a parent or acting as the child’s Guardian ad Litem. Many families fare better apart than together, and whenever I can help a family, especially those with children, avoid conflict and live their best lives, it is extremely rewarding.
Q:How can our subscribers reach you for a consultation?
A: I can be reached at (786) 457-4005 or via e-mail at Rebecca@RMNunezLaw.com. Thank you again!
Thank you, Rebecca, for sharing your knowledge with our subscribers. This is Elina signing off until next month’s spotlight interview. Have a great month!