Board Certified in Marital & Family Law
Board Certified in Marital & Family Law
Board Certified in Marital & Family Law
Board Certified in Marital & Family Law
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father and daughterFor many parents, events in their lives may trigger within them a desire to reconnect with the children from whom they’ve become distant. Depending on the perspective of the child’s other parent, this may not always be easy. A recent case originating in Palm Beach County is a useful reminder to all Florida parents that, even if your desire to forge a closer relationship is strong, you cannot demand a change in your timesharing based solely upon proving that you’ve gotten your life in order. Simply getting your life back on track doesn’t amount to the sort of change in circumstances recognized by Florida law that would allow a court to change your timesharing schedule, according to a Fourth District Court of Appeals ruling.

The case, which involved ex-spouses Christopher Reed and Suni Reed (Suni Meyers at the time of the appeals court’s ruling), was based on a complicated, although not entirely uncommon, set of facts. The husband and wife had one minor child together when they divorced in 2008. As part of that divorce judgment, the court ordered shared parental responsibility with the mother as the primary residential parent. The father had visitation twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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paying moneyWhen you go through a divorce in Florida, you may be ordered to make payments to your ex-spouse for various different reasons. While the preferred outcome is to make all payments in full and on a timely basis, it is nevertheless important to understand the difference in possible punishments for failing to pay different kinds of obligations. In one recent case in North Florida, the First District Court of Appeal threw out a finding of contempt against an ex-husband, ruling that the payment he failed to make on time was neither child support nor alimony, so he was not subject to the trial court’s contempt powers.

In this case, a couple from the Jacksonville area, Steven Schneider and Angela Schenider, divorced, and the trial court ordered the husband to pay the wife $343 per month in child support and $200 per month from his military pension, starting on Dec. 1, 2014. On Dec. 4, the husband wrote the wife a $343 check but also expressed his intention not to pay the remaining $200. Although the husband eventually did pay the additional $200 on Dec. 22, the wife had already filed a request with the court to find the husband in contempt. The wife argued to the trial judge that she deemed the $343 check to be the $200 sum her husband owed her plus $143 of the $343 of the child support obligation. The trial judge approved of the wife’s “election” to construe the $343 sum in the fashion that she did, and the judge held the husband in contempt for failing to pay his full child support obligation on a timely basis.

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Reform Jewish ServiceIn any case involving the divorce of two parents, one of the most important issues the parents will have to resolve will pertain to the religious upbringing of the child. Hopefully, the parents will have similar views or backgrounds regarding religion or alternatively will be able to work cooperatively in the best interest of their child to put a plan into place regarding the religious training of the child. Unfortunately, that does not always happen, as a recent case involving a Jewish family from Palm Beach County showed. As the Fourth District Court of Appeal‘s ruling demonstrated, courts will generally give a parent significant latitude in making these decisions as long as the decisions he or she makes are not proven to be harmful to the child.

The couple in this case, Wayne Steinman and Elizabeth Steinman, were the parents of two children and divorced in 2011. The parents reached a marital settlement agreement that gave both of them shared parental responsibility. All major decisions about the children, including religious upbringing, were to be made collectively by the parents whenever that was possible. Problems emerged three years later when, according to the father, the mother began, with no input from the father, immersing the children in Orthodox Judaism, including enrollment in an Orthodox after-school program and introduction of Orthodox teachings and customs at home. The children had, according to the father, been raised only under Reform Judaism prior to that time.

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Brooklyn BridgeWhen your spouse files a divorce action, it is almost never a good idea not to act upon that filing. In fact, it is almost always a good idea to retain counsel and begin addressing the matter as soon as you possibly can. In one case recently heard by the Second District Court of Appeal and ongoing in the Florida court system, a wife is still trying to get a Florida default divorce judgment overturned because, according to her, neither her husband nor she was ever a resident of Florida.

Gary Minda and Nancy Minda got married in New York in 2000. They resided in New York at that time and remained in New York for several more years. As the marriage deteriorated, the husband filed for divorce, doing so in New York. The wife, as part of that case, petitioned the trial court for an award of spousal support. After the wife made the alimony request, the husband voluntarily dismissed his divorce petition. Shortly thereafter, the husband filed again, except this time, he filed in Pinellas County. Florida law, like the laws in other states, imposes certain residency requirements before its courts can assume jurisdiction over a case. In Florida, this means that one spouse must have been a Florida resident for at least six months. The husband in this case alleged that his wife met this requirement.

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court_hearingA South Florida man made a significant mistake when he arrived at court for a hearing in September 2014. He assumed “this was simple.” He didn’t hire a lawyer, and his wife did. When he left court, he had an injunction for protection against domestic violence entered against him, even though he had received less than three business days’ notice that his wife would accuse him of physical abuse at the hearing. When the husband did hire a lawyer to represent him on appeal, he got the injunction overturned by the Fourth District Court of Appeal because the short notice he received violated his due process rights. The man’s case is a stern reminder to assume nothing about any court hearing, always take them seriously, and take every step available to protect yourself, including hiring counsel.

The case arose from the troubled marriage of Palm Beach County couple Michael Vaught and Kathleen Vaught. The wife went to court in the summer of 2014, seeking a protective injunction. She accused her husband of both stalking her and destroying her personal property. The trial judge declined to issue the injunction, concluding that the assertions the wife made were not enough to meet the legal requirements for issuing a protective injunction. The judge told the wife, however, that she could supplement her allegations with additional evidence to meet the legal standards. The court scheduled another hearing for Wednesday of the next week.

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1024x729x1-Rick-Scott-Public-DomainAlimony reform in Florida is dead for at least one year after an April 15 veto of SB 668 by Governor Rick Scott. The veto represents the second time Scott has vetoed a bill that would have updated Florida’s alimony laws. While the most recent bill removed certain retroactivity provisions from the alimony reforms, which Scott cited as problematic in vetoing the previous bill, the governor again issued a veto, this time due to certain additional reforms addressing timesharing laws, which he said ran the risk of “putting the wants of a parent before the child’s best interest.”

Had it become law, the reform measure would have made several major changes in the way courts resolve divorce and child custody cases. The new law would have ended permanent alimony and would have set up alimony calculation guidelines as well. These guidelines would have assessed the amount and duration of alimony based upon each spouse’s income and the length of the marriage. The most recent bill also would have created a presumption in favor of alimony for all marriages except those lasting two years or less.

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GO_TO_JAILA man who had fallen hundreds of thousands of dollars behind on alimony to his ex-wife was potentially facing a six-month jail sentence for civil contempt before successfully appealing. The 2d District Court of Appeal threw out the punishment in the contempt order because, by imposing a punishment of incarceration in a prospective fashion, the order violated the husband’s Due Process right to have a hearing on whether or not he had the present ability to pay the amount necessary to purge himself of contempt.

The divorcing couple, Edward Bryan and Claudia Jemal, had been married for nearly three decades. They arrived at a marital settlement agreement that the trial court incorporated into the couple’s divorce decree. The husband agreed to pay the wife $125,000 per year in alimony and maintain a $1 million life insurance policy naming the wife as the beneficiary. The husband eventually fell behind on his alimony and his premium payments on the insurance policy.

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BlackeyeIf your ex-boyfriend or -girlfriend punched you, giving you a black eye in the process, that might make you concerned for your well-being. If, in addition, your home had been vandalized the month before, this might serve, in conjunction with the physical violence, to raise your concern even higher. However, as a recent 5th District Court of Appeal ruling demonstrates, the law regarding injunctions against dating violence requires very specific levels of proof, and one act of violence coupled with an anonymous act of vandalism are not enough to trigger the issuance of an injunction.

The woman seeking the injunction, Crystal Stolp, had been in a dating relationship with Victor Nuila that was at its end in the spring of 2015. When it ended, Nuila sent Stolp two emails expressing regret over the relationship’s demise, but Stolp did not view them as threatening. In May of that year, someone vandalized her home’s air conditioner and pool, but she did not know who committed the act. Then, in June, Nuila arrived at Stolp’s home to pick up some of his personal things. A physical altercation ensued, with Nuila twisting Stolp’s arm and giving her a black eye.

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Gavel - sxchu websiteWhen you fail to follow the judge’s instructions in a court order, there are usually negative consequences that happen as a result. A court can do many things to punish a party that does not follow court orders. One option — which is what happened in the Leslies’ case — is that the judge strikes the non-compliant party’s pleadings. That means that it is as if the party had never filed his complaint (or answer) with the court, at all. In family law cases, though, even if your spouse has his pleadings struck by the court, the law still affords him certain rights, and requires you to prove certain things, as a recent 5th District Court of Appeal case showed.

In that case, Howard Leslie and Rowena Gray-Leslie were in the process of getting divorced. With any divorce action, the Florida court rules require each spouse to make certain disclosures to the other. These disclosures involve providing certain financial information and documentation to the other side to facilitate the case going forward.

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make-money-public-domainSome divorce cases go forward with both sides proceeding amicably, respectfully, and ethically. Unfortunately, this is not the case in all situations. Sometimes, a spouse may intentionally engage in wrongdoing as part of the divorce process, including improper dissipation of certain marital assets. When that happens, the law has a process for protecting the other spouse. The key in these situations is offering the right kind of proof of intentional misconduct and making sure that the trial court issues the right kind of finding. A recent case that originated in Broward County illustrated this, as the 4th District Court of Appeal threw out an equitable distribution of a couple’s assets because the court failed to make the necessary findings about the wife’s intentional misconduct.

In the divorce case of Jessica Miller and Michael Miller, the husband accused the wife of intentional misconduct that resulted in the dissipation of marital assets. In divorce cases, generally speaking, trial courts should not include in the equitable distribution of the couple’s assets anything that was “diminished or dissipated” during the period of time while the divorce case was pending. There is one definite situation where that is not the case, however: when one spouse commits intentional acts of misconduct that caused the diminution. When that happens, it is appropriate to include those spent assets in the misbehaving spouse’s portion of the equitable distribution.

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