Comprehensive Coverage

Fifth ed.

• Property law – landlord/tenant, wills, trusts
• Family law – parent/child, marriage, divorce, guardianship, adoption
• Business law – corporations/partnerships, promissory notes/mortgages,
contracts, agency/employment, insurance
• Special areas – torts, criminal law, small claims, consumer law

Florida Law

Florida Law
A Layman’s Guide
Fifth Edition





Are you buying or selling a home?
Is it time to think about writing a will or setting up a trust?
Are you incorporating a business or wondering about employee/contractor issues?
Are you a renter or landlord unsure of your rights and obligations?
Have you received unacceptable products or services but don’t know how to file a claim?
Are you considering adoption?

We face situations such as these every day in our personal and professional lives. Having
some general knowledge of the law can help avoid costly mistakes — and also contribute to
peace of mind. This popular guide to Florida law for the layman — newly revised and updated — takes the mystery out of these and many other legal matters.

Gerald B. Keane received his legal training at the University of Florida
and has practiced in Sarasota since 1973. Board-certified in marital and
family law, he has been president of the Sarasota County Bar Association,
chairman of the Florida Bar Grievance Committee, and author of child
support and contact guidelines for the 12th Judicial Circuit. Additionally,
he has led many community service organizations. He is the author of
Florida Divorce Handbook, also published by Pineapple Press.
$18.95

Pineapple Press, Inc.
Sarasota, Florida
Front cover photo courtesy
of the Florida State Archives

Florida
Law
Fifth edition

Fifth edition

A Layman’s Guide

A Layman’s
Guide

“Following the information contained in this text will give the reader most of the assistance
needed before seeking an attorney, and I truly recommend it for all laymen.”
— from the foreword by Vassar B. Carlton,
Chief Justice, Retired, Florida Supreme Court

A practical, readable guide to your legal rights in Florida

Gerald B.
Keane

The Old Capitol, Tallahassee, Florida

Gerald B. Keane
Attorney at Law

Florida
Law
A Layman’s Guide
Fifth Edition
Gerald B. Keane
Attorney at Law

Pineapple Press, Inc.
Sarasota, Florida

Copyright © 2007 by Gerald Keane
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by
any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by
any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from
the publisher.
Inquiries should be addressed to:
Pineapple Press, Inc.
P.O. Box 3889
Sarasota, Florida 34230
www.pineapplepress.com
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Keane, Gerald B., 1945Florida law : a layman's guide / Gerald B. Keane. -- 5th ed.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-56164-395-0 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Law--Florida--Popular works. I. Title.
KFF81.K4 2007
349.759--dc22

Fifth Edition
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Design by Sandra Wright’s Designs
Printed in the United States of America

2007000561

DEDICATION
To T. J. Jones, the first who said;
To Barbara B., the one I wed;
To Mom and Dad who brought me up;
To Jo LaLoge who typed it up.
To Shane (my boy) and Dana B.,
The Grandest Kids, running free,
For all the Joy they bring my life,
Thank God, and them, and loving wife.
To Kearney, Kornfeld, Brohawn, too;
To worthy clients I advocate;
And, last of all, to readers who
Will, by my words, self-educate;
To every one, to each of you.
This humble work I dedicate.

FOREWORD

Florida Law: A Layman’s Guide by Gerald B. Keane, Attorney-At-Law,
is a rather comprehensive guide that will make the reader aware of his
rights and assist him in recognizing daily problems that sometimes
create legal difficulties and cost unnecessary time and money in court.
Some very complicated principles of law are simplified in a way
that will aid the layperson to a better understanding of legal advice. He
will also have a background in the rules governing our transactions with
others. This guide will help avoid legal problems that could possibly
result in a court case.
The author has done an outstanding job of compiling some basic
legal information in understandable language, and at the same time lets
the reader know that an attorney’s advice should always be used in
serious matters. The layperson should never try to represent himself in
court.
The guide is very informative and helpful in explaining a wide
range of legal problems. Following the information contained in this
text will give the reader most of the assistance needed before seeking
an attorney, and I truly recommend it for all laymen.
—Vassar B. Carlton,
Chief Justice Retired
Florida Supreme Court
v

CONTENTS

Foreword v
Introduction 3
1.
Judges and Lawyers 7
2.
Property 11
3.
Real Property 25
4.
Landlord/Tenant 41
5.
Wills 53
6.
Trusts 79
7.
Guardianship 87
8.
Parent/Child 93
9.
Marriage 103
10. Dissolution of Marriage 113
11. Adoption 145
12. Corporations, Partnerships, and Sole
Proprietorships 155
13. Promissory Notes and Mortgages 169
14. Contracts 183
15. Agency/Employment 195
16. Insurance 201
17. Torts 215
18. Criminal Law 233
19. Small Claims 257
20. Consumer Transactions 263
Appendix I Citizen Dispute Settlement Program 273
Appendix II Depositions 274
Appendix III Conduct in Court 276
Appendix IV Choosing and Dealing with Lawyers 277
Appendix V Shared Parental Responsibility Contact
Guidelines 280
Appendix VI Child Support Guidelines 297
Appendix VII Child Support Worksheet 303
Index 305

FLORIDA
LAW

INTRODUCTION

The law is essentially a formal means of assuring that each individual
citizen is accorded rights and opportunities that serve to benefit society
as a whole. To a large extent, according rights to one individual
deprives all others of an opportunity or right that would otherwise be
theirs. There’s only so much room within a society to move our elbows
about. Since the balance of rights, opportunities, and freedoms is very
subjective, those who are most aware of their rights and most assertive
in seeking them will likely achieve a greater share than others less
aware. In this sense, society is very much a case of “us against them,”
with “us” having to assert our rights to a reasonable degree to get our
appropriate share. The first step in such a process is knowledge. Since
3

4 / Florida Law
99.99% of all disputes about law and rights are settled without resorting
to lawsuits, the surest way of achieving a fair balance of rights is for all
of us to know what our rights are.
There are far too many aspects of the law that can affect your life
for any one book to cover, but some are so common that all of us will
someday find information about them helpful.
This book won’t make you an attorney. It won’t even make you a
lawyer. A lawyer is made during three years of law school; an attorney
is the result of many years of practice. My aim is to give you enough
knowledge of Florida law to understand your rights and to avoid legal
problems. If this book saves you from even one legal battle during your
lifetime, your money and my time will have been well spent.
In most cases, you will hire a lawyer to deal with legal problems.
This book will help you find a good lawyer. It should also help you
understand what he tells you. It could accurately be said that this book
will tell you as much as your lawyer could tell you during a short conference if he did not have the facts of your case. But this book is no substitute for his professional judgment. It can only help you recognize a
legal problem, find your lawyer, and then better understand his advice.
To help you understand the scope of Florida law, consider that it
takes more than 11,000 pages to print the Florida Statutes. That’s
11,000 big pages of very small print—and that’s just the headlines. The
real law is found in the reports of the cases that interpret and apply
those statutes. The cases take up more than 1,000 volumes, each with
more than a thousand pages. I could not hope to even summarize those
more than a million pages in this one volume. What I hope to do is
make you a smarter, better protected citizen. The way you use this book
will show whether I succeed.
Let me give you some warnings to help you use this book to best
advantage. First, every statement in this book needs a qualifier to make
it accurate: the information is “generally,” “usually, “ or even “probably” true. The law applies to a kaleidoscope of ever-changing facts.
Any little fact could make your case completely different from your
neighbor’s. Your lawyer is sensitive to this and can give you advice that
fits your situation.
Be cautious. It is certainly true that he who represents himself has
a fool for a client. Even lawyers don’t as a rule represent themselves for
this very reason. You can undoubtedly handle many legal matters your-

Introduction / 5
self but, unfortunately, you may not be able to distinguish the ones you
can handle from the ones you can’t. Over your lifetime, you’ll come out
way ahead if you turn your legal matters over to a competent attorney.
Please use this book to help you recognize when you have a legal
problem. Then get professional help to deal with it.

1.
JUDGES AND
LAWYERS

Law is merely the formalization of the rules of society. Legislators
make laws and judges apply them. We educate lawyers to present the
law to the judges. We create courts to give judges a place to sit. Seems
simple, doesn’t it? It isn’t.
A court is not a place for judges to sit; that’s a courtroom. A court
is an entity that has certain and specific authority. Judges are lawyers
who give up their practices when appointed or elected to exercise the
authority of a court.
The Florida court system is simple. There are only four levels:
county court, circuit court, district court of appeals, and supreme
court. You can forget the supreme court right away. It no longer has
much to do with the law for you and me since it deals mainly with death
penalty cases and questions of the validity of a statute or a constitutional
provision.
7

8 / Florida Law
Just below the Florida Supreme Court, we have the district courts
of appeal. There are only five of these appellate courts, and they hear
virtually all appeals from the circuit courts.
Circuit courts and county courts are trial courts. That means that
they hear disputes between real people. Those real people never appear
in appellate courts because appellate courts decide only questions of
law, never the facts of a case. Appellate courts don’t decide who should
win; that’s the job of the trial courts.
Relatively few cases are appealed in Florida but, over the years,
there have been enough of them to fill a million pages of cases in over
1,000 volumes. A layman almost never gets personally involved with a
district court; it’s all technical stuff up there. Your case could, however, be appealed to a district court by your attorney. Attorneys file an
appeal if they think the trial judge made a mistake that affected their
client’s rights. The average appeal in Florida costs between $5,000 and
$25,000 and takes about a year to be decided by the three-judge panel.
Chances of success depend on the case, of course, but less than 20% of
appeals are successful.
County courts are the lowest courts in Florida. County court
judges have power only within their own counties, with jurisdiction
over such matters as traffic infractions and minor criminal charges.
They also rule on civil suits involving relatively small amounts (up to
$15,000). Small claims (up to $5,000) are heard in county courts. Jury
trials can be held for many of the cases. You don’t always need a lawyer
in county court.
Circuit court is where the action is. A circuit is an arbitrary
grouping of several counties. Circuit judges hold court in each county
in their circuit, “travelling the circuit” as it used to be called. Any
Florida case that seems substantial to a layman will probably be heard
in a circuit court, including major criminal charges, divorce cases, bigmoney law suits, injunctions, eminent domain, and even the probate of
wills. Jury trials are more frequent in circuit courts and you generally
need a lawyer in order to be adequately heard there whether the case is
to be decided by a judge or by a jury. Circuit courts also hear appeals
from county courts but such appeals are relatively rare.
All judges must be lawyers since the skills needed to understand
the law and evaluate evidence are developed through experience in the
courts. We wouldn’t want an airline pilot to fly our 747 without many

Judges and Lawyers / 9
hours of jet experience, and the judges are, in many ways, pilots for society.
Their judgment and skills greatly affect many lives, often those of people
who are not even involved in court cases. Not every lawyer would make a
good judge; not even every good lawyer would make a good judge. But,
it’s safe to say that every good judge was once a good lawyer.
Florida judges reach the bench in one of two ways. They can be
elected by voters or they can be appointed by the governor. Historically,
appointments were more common than elections but two factors have
changed that. First, the appointment process has become far more political than merit-based and the credibility of the appointment process has
been greatly compromised. Secondly, and probably more importantly, a
judge appointed to replace a retiring judge must face election in the next
election period and, thus, every judge ends up eventually being elected.
The governor, however, still appoints judges for newly-created judgeships that must be filled before an election.
When a judge needs to be appointed, a local committee of laymen
and lawyers screens applicants and nominates a small number of candidates, usually three. The list is sent to the governor, who must choose
his appointee from that list. Until recently, croynism was prevented
because the local nominating committee was predominantly independent of the governor (he only had one-third of the appointments to
that committee). Now, however, fully two thirds of the committee
members are appointed by the governor and it doesn’t take a cynic to
believe that the nominees sent to the governor reflect his wishes rather
than a truly independent consideration. Sitting judges must be reelected
periodically (circuit judges every six years, county court judges every
four years) but rarely is a judge who performs adequately challenged in
an election.
Lawyers are the ground troops of the system. Talking about
lawyers is like talking about the people of an entire country; there’s too
much diversity to say anything very helpful, but there are a few facts
that may breed some understanding. First, all Florida lawyers must be
college and law school graduates. Before you can practice law in the
state of Florida, you must also pass both the state bar examination and
a background investigation. Law school graduation gives you the title
of lawyer; passing the exam and surviving the investigation entitles you
to a license to practice law and to be called attorney, that is, one authorized to represent others in a court of law. The distinction between

10 / Florida Law
lawyer and attorney isn’t often made anymore.
A license to practice law doesn’t mean that a lawyer is competent
in all fields. Probate lawyers rarely know anything about criminal law,
and family lawyers will probably give you a blank look if you ask them
about the law governing securities. Good lawyers are good within their
fields. Keep that always in mind in choosing a lawyer. Nothing is more
important than understanding your lawyer’s limitations. However,
some legal matters involve such basic principles of law that any conscientious practitioner should be able to handle them adequately. These
include such things as simple wills and straightforward real estate sales.
A good rule is that if you find your lawyer to be frank, conscientious,
and skilled in one area, take his word for whether he can handle another
matter. Good lawyers are aware of their limitations and willing to admit
them.
(For practical advice on selecting an attorney, see Appendix IV.)

Florida Law
by
Gerald Keane

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