Blog author Sandy T. Fox focuses exclusively on the area of marital and family law. In this resource you’ll find a lot of information, and it’s all divided into simple, accessible categories. All you need in one place.
There are certain things that are generally true across a wide variety of legal issues, even if those cases have little in common factually. One of those nearly universal truths is that long periods of time during which you could have taken action but did not do so rarely have a positive impact on your case. Long delays are rarely your friend. If you think you have a claim or a legal argument to make, your best move is to consult knowledgeable Florida family law counsel right away.
An example of this was a recent divorce case from Broward County. Afnaan was married three times. A court in the country of Jordan issued a decree in 2000 ending her marriage to her first husband. That order stated a “divorce date” of 1998, likely due to the fact that Afnaan had married her second husband between the 1998 date and the decree date. She and Husband #2 divorced, and she married Saad in 2011. Afnaan’s third marriage ended as the first two had, with a Florida court issuing an order of dissolution in 2014.
Saad appealed that order. His argument was a novel one: he contended that the 2000 Jordanian decree ending the wife’s first marriage was not valid under Florida law, which allegedly would mean that the Florida courts didn’t have jurisdiction to dissolve his marriage.
When you go through a divorce, there are several steps that you must complete. The equitable distribution of marital assets is one of them. Of course, most people’s marital estates are not an unchangeable thing but instead experience change every time the couple buys or sells something or every time an asset fluctuates in value. So how do you determine when to analyze the marital estate in order to complete an equitable distribution? For answers to these types of questions, as well as what they mean for you and your divorce, you should act promptly to consult a knowledgeable Florida equitable distribution attorney.
A recent case from central Florida shone a light on this issue. The spouses, Orlando and Diana, divorced after 23 years of marriage. During the marriage, the couple owned multiple pieces of real estate. Orlando and Diana, as Colombians, observed the Colombian tradition of parents providing for their children and, motivated by that, deeded four of the properties they owned to their sons. After these transfers, they still had left an apartment in Colombia, a condo in Naples, and a house in Marco Island.
After the trial’s conclusion, the judge issued a decision on equitable distribution, giving the husband the house in Marco Island plus two of the properties that the couple had previously deeded to the sons. The wife received the apartment in Colombia, the condo in Naples, and a vacant lot that the couple had deeded to their sons. The court ordered the fourth property that had been deeded to the children sold.
An old joke among law students and lawyers theorizes that students enter law school because they are not good at math. If they were, so the joke goes, they’d bypass law school in favor of medical school or engineering. The reality, however, is obviously very different. Many lawyers are very adept at math, which is important because many areas of the law, including family law, can involve extensive math skills. Many times, success in your alimony or child support case can involve having a Florida alimony attorney who has extensive knowledge of the rules and recognizes when the math “just doesn’t add up.”
One example of a case in which the alimony math “didn’t add up,” and the wife secured a favorable judgment on appeal as a result, was the divorce of Danny and Gina. The couple divorced after 14 years of marriage, and their divorce judgment required Danny to pay Gina durational alimony in the amount of $3,800 for eight years. Gina appealed the trial court’s order, contending that the amount of alimony the trial court awarded was too low. Specifically, the wife argued that the trial judge calculated the amount of alimony she should receive incorrectly because the judge failed to take into account the tax consequences of the alimony award.
The appeals court sided with the wife on this point. The evidence presented to the trial judge showed that the wife had a monthly financial need of just over $5,600 per month. Based on the wife’s work history, the trial judge imputed income to the wife in an amount just under $2,100 per month. Using these numbers, the court arrived at the $3,800 monthly obligation amount.
When a couple divorces, there are several things they must work through in order to reach a settlement agreement, including the division of their property. Sometimes, parties may make certain payments contingent on other financial events, like the sale of the marital home. Thus, what happens if the house is put up for sale, but no one buys it? Issues like this highlight just how important it is to negotiate thoroughly and draft carefully any marital settlement agreement that you sign. When it comes to marital settlement agreements, it pays to have an experienced Florida property division attorney on your side.
A recent case involving this type of settlement agreement dispute involved the divorce of Jonathan and Angela. The couple worked out a marital settlement agreement in their divorce case that stated that they agreed to sell their marital home. They later amended the agreement to dictate that the home had a fair market value of $725,000 and an outstanding mortgage of $328,000. They agreed that each spouse was entitled to 50% of the equity in the home, meaning that each spouse was entitled to $198,500.
To accomplish this distribution, the agreement required the wife to sign over her one-half interest in the home to the husband. The husband agreed to pay the wife $80,000 within 10 days and the remaining $118,500 when the sale of the home closed.
Sometimes, divorces cases can be amicable or straightforward…or even both. Other times, though, they are the furthest thing from amicable or straightforward. Parties may seek to use whatever they have at their disposal that they think will give them leverage in getting the outcome they want. Sometimes, they engage in improper tactics. When that happens, there may be recourse for the spouse who was harmed by the other spouse’s improper conduct. As with almost any legal issue, however, the law only gives you a limited time to act. That’s why, if you think you’ve been a victim of coercion or duress in your divorce settlement, or that your spouse has otherwise acted improperly, you should talk to an experienced Florida divorce attorney right away.
One recent case from North Florida involved an apparently salacious example of potential coercion or duress. The underlying action was a complicated divorce litigation case involving a Jacksonville-area attorney and his wife. At some point while the divorce case was going forward, the husband encountered a serious problem. He had a mistress, and his wife had pictures of her husband and the other woman. The appeals court’s opinion stated that the wife “allegedly obtained” pictures of the husband and mistress that were “of a private nature.” The appeals court’s opinion did not elaborate further on the exact “private nature” of the images or precisely how the wife came to be in possession of those photos.
Regardless, the wife allegedly used the photos as leverage, threatening the husband with their public release if he did not agree to settle the couple’s divorce case on terms she preferred. In his court papers, the husband asserted that the divorce mediator told the husband that, if he did not give the wife “what she wanted,” he’d end up owing alimony, child support, and the wife’s attorneys’ fees, in addition to receiving no timesharing with the couple’s children. The husband capitulated to the wife’s demands.
Life is full of twists, turns, and surprises. Sometimes, your family law issues can turn out to be the same way. Even though you may think that you have a firm grasp on everything that your case will entail, there can be unexpected events. It could be learning some previously undiscovered fact, or it could be something related to the law or procedural rules affecting your case. These are all reasons to have an experienced Florida alimony lawyer on your side. With a skilled attorney handling your case, you can respond appropriately, even when unusual or unplanned things happen.
A man named David found himself in such a scenario when going through the court system in South Florida. He and his wife, Liudmyla, were going through a divorce in Broward County. As part of that case, the wife asked for alimony. The judge denied the request entirely when he entered the final judgment of divorce. Some time later, the wife made a motion for disqualification, which meant that she was asking the judge to remove himself from the case. The judge granted that request, and David and Liudmyla’s case was reassigned to a different trial court judge in Broward County.
Two months later, the wife made a new request, this one with the new judge, asking for an award of temporary alimony pending appeal. In many situations, the correct way for a judge in Florida to decide a spouse’s entitlement to alimony is to weigh the requesting spouse’s need against the would-be supporting spouse’s ability to pay. The second judge reviewed the facts on the record in the case and, after weighing David’s ability to pay versus Liudmyla’s need, awarded temporary alimony to the wife.
“Self help” is a phrase often used in legal cases involving landlords and tenants. It generally refers to a landlord who decides to throw out a tenant on his own, without going through the proper legal procedures required for an eviction. Serious negative consequences can befall a landlord who engages in self help. While the phrase “self help” doesn’t exist in Florida family law cases, a similar truth exists. If you think your ex-spouse has violated the terms of your marital settlement agreement, and you decide to respond by taking matters into your own hands and acting on your own without going through the proper legal channels, it can create significant problems for you. It is a much better plan, instead, to retain an experienced attorney to help you protect your interests.
One common situation in which this type of problem crops up, and was at issue again in a very recent Fourth District Court of Appeal case that originated in Palm Beach County, relates to the marital residence. Many marital settlement agreements may give the exclusive use and possession of the home to one spouse but require that the spouses share the responsibility for paying the mortgage on the home. These agreements may impose certain restrictions on what the spouse who takes the home can and cannot do. For example, an agreement might give the home to the wife but prohibit any unrelated males from living in the home while the wife has sole possession.
So let’s say a couple has an agreement like the one described above, but the wife moves her boyfriend into the house. What can the husband do? Can he simply stop paying his half of the mortgage? No, he generally cannot. Furthermore, if the home is the residence of not just the ex-wife but also the couple’s children, the consequences facing the husband if he doesn’t pay can be especially serious. That’s because, in the scenario outlined above, that husband’s payment of 50% of the mortgage is considered to be a type of spousal support and child support. Not paying the mortgage can subject the husband to contempt of court penalties, potentially up to and including jail, the same as any other parent who is not paying their child support.
In law, as with a lot of things in life, it pays to be well-versed in the details, be they small or great. For example, if you are preparing to retire, and your transition into retirement means a significant reduction of your income, do you know which rights this change provides when it comes to your alimony obligation? This and other questions are areas in which it pays to have representation from an experienced Florida alimony attorney.
One man facing that type of alimony scenario was Anthony, a firefighter. Anthony had filed for divorce in 2013 after 22 years of marriage. Anthony and his wife, Amy, worked out a marital settlement agreement. The agreement called for the husband to pay the wife $1,250 per month in durational alimony. The agreement said that it became enforceable when both spouses signed it, which happened in mid-September 2014. The trial judge, however, did not sign the final judgment in the divorce case until December 30.
These dates all mattered because of the change that occurred in the husband’s employment. In early December 2014, his pension board approved his retirement, effective Jan. 23, 2015. Three months into his retirement, the husband went back to court to seek a reduction in his alimony obligation. In support of his request, he pointed to his significantly reduced income in retirement.
When a court makes a determination that an award of alimony is appropriate in a divorce case, one of the things with which the court may concern itself is taking steps to ensure the obligation is met. To do that, the law allows courts to demand that supporting spouses purchase life insurance to secure the award. Florida law also, however, dictates some clear hurdles that must be cleared in order for such an order to be allowed. Two cases from this year show this aspect of alimony cases in action. A knowledgeable Florida alimony attorney can help you in an alimony case that involves the mandatory purchase of life insurance.
The more recent of the two cases was a Fifth District Court of Appeal opinion that reversed an alimony award in favor of a husband. As part of this ruling in a divorce case that originated in Seminole County, the appeals court overturned the trial judge’s order that required the wife to maintain a $500,000 life insurance policy as security for the alimony obligation that she owed.
Florida law permits courts to order supporting spouses to purchase and maintain life insurance as security for alimony obligations. However, the law also places some clear boundaries regarding when such an obligation can be demanded. In order for a supporting spouse to be legally obliged to maintain life insurance for this reason, the trial court must first make several specific factual findings. The court must make determinations about insurability, about the cost of the policy, and about the ability of the supporting spouse to afford the insurance, as well as the impact on the supporting spouse of ordering such an insurance policy purchase requirement.
When you make a claim for alimony, there are multiple hurdles you’ll need to clear. You’ll need to prove that you have a financial need. You’ll need to prove that your ex-spouse has the ability to pay. You may also have to overcome arguments from your ex-spouse that seek to impute income to you. All of these are areas in which the knowledge and skill of an experienced Florida alimony attorney can provide a major benefit.
The key issue in the divorce case of Carlos and Anemey was alimony. In making the necessary findings regarding the husband’s ability to pay and the wife’s need, the court must make income determinations for each spouse. Additionally, the court may impute income to either spouse if the judge concludes that that spouse is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. In this case, it was the imputation of income that sent the case all the way to the Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Anemey was a stay-at-home parent during most of the couple’s marriage. By the time the couple began going through the divorce process, Anemey was a 62-year-old with a GED and minimal work experience. She last worked for a cosmetics company in California, making $12 per hour. She testified that she intended to work full-time, but she had received no replies to any of the job applications she submitted. Nevertheless, the court concluded that she should be capable of landing a 40-hour-per-week job that paid $10 per hour, so it imputed income to her in the amount of $400 per week.
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