DADvocacy® was founded by family law attorney Chantale Suttle. DADvocacy’s clients benefit from Chantale’s sixteen years of legal experience. She is the only lawyer in Miami-Dade County who has dealt with the child support enforcement system from all three angles—prosecutor, defense attorney, and magistrate judge. It is through those combined experiences that Chantale realized the need for a firm like DADvocacy®.
DADvocacy® is solely dedicated to helping fathers who are facing the child support enforcement system. The firm was created to even the playing field for fathers and alleged fathers in a system that is well-intentioned, but stacked against them. DADvocacy’s core belief is that a man should be helped to understand the system, and pay no more than his fair share under the law. When a father who wants to work with the system is given the same respect and support as a mother, his life will more likely improve as will the lives of his children.
Chantale’s vision for the firm also included flat fee, and only flat fee representation. Fathers who know exactly what their lawyer will cost them ahead of time can make budgeting decisions that consider their children first and foremost.
In addition to serving fathers, Courts regularly appoint Chantale to represent the interests of children in marital disputes as a guardian ad Litem. She is a member of the Florida Bar Family Law Section Child Support Issues Committee, and chairs Florida Bar Grievance Committee 11-N, where she reviews the investigation and sanctioning of unethical lawyers. Chantale is a graduate of the University of Miami, School of Law.
Recently, Chantale was asked to be interviewed by The Miami Herald’s Christine Vega about her company. Below is a transcript of the interview:
- HERALD: Who is Dadvocacy?
- SUTTLE: DADvocacy is my company, it is a Law Firm Just for Dads. We are a family law firm that serves dads, especially those with child support cases where they are not dealing with mom as the opposition, but instead the State of Florida Department of Revenue. Child support as ordered and enforced by the Department of Revenue at the separate child support courthouse is very, very different than the child support case that is done in family court with both parents opposing each other.
- HERALD: How long in operation?
- SUTTLE: We have been in business only since February of 2012, and at our current location downtown since September of 2012.
- HERALD: How did you determine this need for specialized legal assistance for fathers was necessary?
- SUTTLE: As a former State of Florida child support lawyer, I received many calls while in private practice from bewildered lawyers who were seasoned experts in the field, but had trouble navigating the child support court for their male clients. Later, I took the bench as a General Magistrate in child support court, and saw a lack of representation of fathers, which meant that not much case law was being generated to clarify and tighten up the issues. An analysis that we undertook before forming the company showed that at child support court, only 5% of fathers were represented by counsel. At family court, the number is about 20%. The Miami-Dade county child support court docket is 93,000 active cases, which actually dwarfs the county’s foreclosure docket. These are the numbers that showed me the need and the demand for my company. While we do all kinds of family law cases, from prenups to dissolutions to enforcing parenting plans, most dads are coming to me because of my unique perspective, as the only attorney in Miami who has sat in all three seats of the child support courtroom.
- HERALD: Who are you? Please detail your background and experiences, especially in terms of fathers’ rights.
- SUTTLE: I have been practicing for 16 years, first as a child support Assistant State Attorney, then for nearly a decade in private practice, and later took the bench as a General Magistrate. Immediately upon leaving my General Magistrate position through a layoff, I began researching and planning the formation of this firm. More importantly, I am a parent myself, aided in childraising by my hands-on, totally capable husband, who can do everything I can do when it comes to our kids, (and many things he can do better).
- HERALD: When is Dadvocacy available to help? (Times, Days, etc.)
- SUTTLE: We have walk in hours each week, and have a very informative website for those who cannot get to us. We also operate our Mobile Consult Unit as a mobile location for initial consultations. There, clients can meet us, complete the initial paperwork, and have the case conflict-checked. Our MCU appears at events where we are invited by groups who find it beneficial to their members to have a lawyer available to them. Church groups and unions are especially welcoming to us. As we do work for teenaged fathers pro-bono, we try to get our truck out to places where teens congregate, since they absolutely hate coming to an office downtown. My truck is manly, sleek, armored and came bulletproofed, I’d like to think if James Bond needed a family law lawyer, he would come find me in my truck . I keep sodas, and car and sports magazines in there so my teen dads can feel like they are somewhere “cooler” than a law office. We also use our truck as a diaper distribution vehicle as part of our “Diapers at Dads House” program. Often, our teen dads can’t afford diapers, which makes it difficult for them to exercise their timesharing. By providing them some diapers to keep at their house, they are more prepared to spend time with their kids at their own home.
- HERALD: Who are your clients?
- SUTTLE: Our clients are actually all types of fathers, and even a few moms. Our clients run the entire income spectrum, with some high wealth dads desiring traditional hourly representation, and others loving our written ”litigation blueprint” and fixed flat fee plans.
- HERALD: What are the situations that most often bring them to you?
- SUTTLE: Often, our clients have done part of the work themselves already and find themselves a bit stuck. If we can help them, we do so, and we charge very fairly for that. If we can’t, we send them home, and they haven’t paid us a penny.
- HERALD: How do they feel when they arrive?
- SUTTLE: I have built my office to even look and feel different than a traditional law firm. We don’t meet at a big imposing desk, but rather at small conference tables, with beautiful photos of fathers and their children flanking the walls. My fancy diplomas are in the hall. My clients are handed a calculator, which they use to work the numbers as I calculate them. I also given instruction on how to access the publicly accessible online docket, which they can use to monitor their case themselves. No client has ever seen that done before. Whether they hire us or not, they are a lot more informed about their case when they leave. Throughout my career, I have volunteered my time working with the Florida Bar on issues of lawyer ethics. This taught me a lot about what clients wanted from their lawyers, and what made them feel angry, overcharged and betrayed. I felt that the traditional lawyer-client relationship left a lot to be desired for family law clients, and I knew there was a way to do it better. Hopefully, in a few years, I will have proven that you can be successful working outside the box.
- HERALD: How are you most able to help them?
- SUTTLE: I can help a client most before any court intervention has occurred.
- HERALD: How have you helped your clients most?
- SUTTLE: Most of my clients, and many lawyers have been pleasantly surprised when I tell them about the recent changes to our state’s custody law. Basically, as of the fall of 2008, custody is nonexistent in Florida, and all cases, whether the children are born of marriage or not, are built upon Timesharing. The words custody and visitation are no longer in our law books. Now, couples create a parenting plan, and when the overnights are laid out at each parents’ respective home, child support is calculated with those numbers in mind. Naturally, a father who has his children for a significant number of overnights, is spending on their needs at his own home, and child support is decreased accordingly. Dads who can truly commit to spending a significant amount of time with their kids and can get to me before a case is heard are the ones who are helped the most.
- HERALD: How successful have you been?
- SUTTLE: I have been as successful as the law is favorable to my client’s position. I can’t help any father who doesn’t want to take care of his children. I can only help those that want to support their children with their funds and their time. The law helps those dads, and those are the only ones who are my clients. Thankfully, I haven’t had to waste too much time on the true deadbeats, the overwhelming majority of men I see realize that the joy of having children comes with the moral and legal obligation to support them emotionally and financially.
- HERALD: What are some of the most avoidable issues that you see in your practice?
- SUTTLE: I think the worst thing people do is fail to appear at hearings or don’t keep their contact information updated with the child support system. Reversing an Order already entered is either impossible or at least an uphill battle.
- HERALD: Are you surprised by the lack of knowledge of father’s rights?
- SUTTLE: Shocked really, I can’t believe how many educated and intelligent people still think that children “belong” to mom. The mental health field has been unanimous and loud, children raised without fathers are more likely to find themselves in every type of trouble. There are too many dads who don’t want to be involved, for us to reject the dads who do. If you have a man, even an imperfect man, wanting to be a part of his child’s life, he should be permitted, not for his own sake, but for the sake of his child.
- HERALD: How do you see your company/services evolving in the next year?
- SUTTLE: I’d like to do more community outreach to father’s groups, and teach them about the law and their rights as parents. We have one we are serving now, Fathers in the Hood, a great organization that helps dads get ready for the hands on work of parenting.
- HERALD: How about in 5 years?
- SUTTLE: In 5 years, I hope many lawyers are doing the work that I am doing. There are too many dads who need advice and representation and are willing to pay a reasonable, manageable fee.
- HERALD: What is the most rewarding thing about what you do every day?
- SUTTLE: Last week, I got an Order wherein a dad gets to spend every weekend with his daughter. Even though mom worked every weekend, she wouldn’t allow him this time, for no reason at all. The judge saw it our way, and my client was ecstatic.
- HERALD: What is the most difficult?
- SUTTLE: The most difficult are those cases where mom has relocated with the children far away to frustrate visitation and dad didn’t put forth any type of legal objection before she left. Very, very few judges will have a mom return, it’s a sad and difficult case. Everyone is out, the kids are without dad, dads are without the kids, and mom is without an extra set of hands to help her out, leaving her overwhelmed and tired and not the best parent she can be. *