Jacksonville divorce attorney Lauren Adkins hasn’t been practicing family law in the Duval County area for very long – she moved from Tampa in February – but she’s already noticed some particularities about the region.
For one, she loves the community’s laid-back vibe. Whereas Tampa is more metropolitan, Jacksonville leans blue collar, which presents its own benefits and challenges when it comes to practicing family law.
“What I’ve experienced across the board with judges so far is that everyone is really, really nice,” Ms. Adkins said. “They’re more laid back. There’s not as much business in the court house. They’re wanting to settle more than they want to go to court.
“The judges go to chambers and they’re just sitting there in their suits – they’re not wearing robes. They’re having more informal meetings and really trying to make it a more enjoyable experience for everybody.”
A personal connection
Ms. Adkins has practiced different aspects of family law for 12 years. Previously, she practiced criminal law, but found family law much more fulfilling because of the personal connection she is able to foster with clients.
“It gives you a chance to interact with clients on a longer-term basis and act as a friend or counselor as well as legal counsel,” she said. “I like that relationship in walking them through a tough time when their family is being divided and the stakes are really high. It gives you a chance to interact with them on a different level.”
Florida, and specifically Jacksonville, poses its own set of obstacles from a legal perspective. It is still one of the only states with permanent alimony laws still on the books, meaning it’s possible for judges to order a party to pay alimony for the rest of their life.
Recent efforts to update the state’s alimony laws, and modernize the child custody statutes, fell short.
Ms. Adkins said there is also an “old-school” belief in many parts of the state that a child is better suited spending the majority of their time with one parent or the other. Due to outdated gender stereotypes that still pervade the family court system, that parent is more often than not the mother.
“It’s really difficult explaining to clients how these laws work, because they can be tough to understand,” Ms. Adkins said. “Between getting the client to understand these alimony and child custody laws and their ramifications that these laws allow us to work within, in addition to the attitudes you see in some courts, there are still some major challenges.”
‘A great experience’
Despite these hurdles, Ms. Adkins says there is no other place she’d rather be than Jacksonville. She’s previously lived in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Tampa so she has gotten a feel for the courtrooms across the entire state.
“What I really like about Jacksonville, and it affects me personally and professionally, is that I love coming to my job here,” Ms. Adkins said. “I miss my former colleagues, but it’s just been a really great experience living in Jacksonville so far.”