Articles Posted in Divorce

Generally, the law gives judges significant discretion when it comes to the orders they hand down in family law cases, especially when it comes to division of assets and debts. The court can demand that a particular spouse pay a particular debt and can impose requirements regarding how to pay it, such as demanding that the marital home be sold–at least in most circumstances. However, Florida constitutional law creates some very strong protections for homestead property, and sometimes the homestead exemption protection can have an impact on a family law case. To make sure you’re not forced into selling your home when you don’t have to, be sure to retain an experienced Florida family law attorney.

As an example of a conflict between debt assignment in a divorce and the homestead exemption, there’s the recent case of S.A.S. and J.S. The pair were going through divorce in Broward County, and their divorce included issues that required the retention of a guardian ad litem. Guardians ad litem often become involved in divorce cases involving minor children if the case is especially litigious or there has been an allegation of child abuse or neglect.

In a family law case, a guardian ad litem is often a local attorney and is entitled to payment of fees for the service she provides. Many times, the guardian ad litem may be paid by the hour. The guardian ad litem’s fees are owed by the litigants, which means that this is one more marital expense that the court must decide who pays.

For many couples, the creation of mutual agreements can be a useful and healthy way to resolve some or all of the issues outstanding in a divorce. However, even the most well thought out settlement agreements can be undone, in whole or in part, by the intrusion of unexpected life-changing events. When that happens, one spouse may need to ask the court for an order modifying an obligation like alimony, and to make that modification retroactive. To ensure a truly equitable outcome, it is important to get that date of retroactivity right. To make sure your alimony outcome is a just one, you should be sure you have a skilled South Florida family law attorney on your side.

One couple facing this issue of retroactive modification of alimony was J.N. and C.N. The Palm Beach County couple worked out a marital settlement agreement that, among other things, said that the husband would pay the wife alimony of $2,750 per month in years one and two, and then gradually decline to $1,000 per month in year eight.

Two months after the spouses reached this agreement, in January 2016, the husband encountered an allegedly unexpected surprise: he lost his job. He went back to court and asked the judge reduce the amount of his alimony based upon this change. At that time, the court had not entered a final order of dissolution, which was not entered until nine months later. A month after the judge entered the order, in November 2016, the husband filed an amended motion, again asking for a reduction in alimony.

If you need a modification in the alimony you’re receiving, your case requires more than proof that you need more support and that your former spouse can afford to pay more in support. You need evidence that a substantial change in circumstances has taken place. That can be a key stumbling block for some litigants’ alimony modification cases because without the right kind of proof to establish this change, a judge cannot give you the modification you seek. To make sure you have the evidence required to get the support you need, be sure to put a knowledgeable South Florida family law on your side.

In seeking a modification of alimony, it may make good sense to provide the court with multiple possible changes in circumstances. Here’s an example: S.M. was a former wife from the Tampa Bay area who went to court seeking a modification of her alimony. The amount of alimony had originally been set in a “nominal alimony award” contained within the final judgment of dissolution in the couple’s case.

In S.M.’s situation, she had been receiving support from her daughter and her sister, but those two women ceased being able to continue that support. Those women’s inability to continue supporting her was a substantial change in circumstances, she argued. The ex-wife argued that there were additional changes, as well. Her insurance costs had gone up following the divorce. She possibly owed her sister certain sums for various expenses, and the ex-husband had begun negotiating with lenders on the property where the ex-wife was residing, which forced her to rent a new place to live.

When a court faces a question about the calculation of an alimony obligation, it generally looks at the requesting spouse’s need and the other spouse’s ability to pay. In many situations, that may involve just looking at the income and the expenses of each spouse. There are situations, though, where a court may be legally obliged to consider more than just the respective incomes of the two spouses. One circumstance where that’s the case occurs when one spouse is voluntarily unemployed or voluntarily underemployed. If you are involved in a case that includes issues of alimony and/or child support and your spouse is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, then be sure you have the skill of an experienced South Florida family law attorney on your side.

J.M. and T.M.’s divorce case was one where alimony was one of the key issues in dispute. In the case, the husband sought to have income imputed to the wife. Intentionally avoiding work, or avoiding working at an income level commensurate with your education and professional experience, can have the impact of skewing the calculation of the proper amount of alimony. When the court decides that this “voluntary unemployment” or “voluntary underemployment” has happened, then the law allows the judge to do what’s called “imputing income” to the spouse who is voluntarily underemployed or unemployed.

In that process, the judge determines how much the voluntarily underemployed or unemployed spouse would be making if he/she were earning up to his/her reasonable capabilities, and then makes a determination about alimony based on that figure, not the spouse’s actual income. This is true whether the allegedly voluntarily underemployed or unemployed spouse is the one seeking alimony or is the one who may be ordered to pay alimony.

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Going through the divorce process can be, and often is, a difficult time, both emotionally and, in many situations, financially. Divorcing spouses may be forced to deplete financial accounts or sell assets to pay for necessary things like living expenses and legal fees. When you do, the expenditure of those assets may impact the outcome of your case with regard to equitable distribution. In any equitable distribution outcome, your goals certainly include not being penalized for depleting assets for legitimate reasons. To make sure you get a genuinely fair equitable distribution, make certain you have the services of an experienced South Florida family law attorney on your side.

For an illustration of the rules regarding the dissipation of marital assets, there’s the very recent case of T.M. and H.M. from Palm Beach County. Each spouse petitioned for divorce in 2016 after nearly 25 years of marriage. The couple’s divorce case covered several important issues, including equitable distribution and child support. After the trial was over, the wife appealed. In her appeal, she objected to several decisions the trial court made regarding equitable distribution as well as the calculation of her income for child support calculation purposes.

The outcome of the appellate argument regarding the equitable distribution of the couple’s marital assets was particularly useful. In T.M. and H.M.’s case, the trial judge awarded the wife her checking account and her savings account. The documents in the divorce case identified the value of the savings account as $13,275 and the value of the checking account as $13,212.

When it comes to alimony, the law recognizes that the goal of the award is to provide needed support for the recipient spouse. To further that objective, a court may order the payor spouse to go out and purchase a life insurance policy that will, in the event of the payor’s untimely death, allow the recipient spouse to obtain the equivalent of the alimony ordered in the divorce. If you are the spouse whom a judge has ordered to pay alimony (and make the purchase of life insurance), it is useful to bear in mind that the law requires the court to make certain specific findings of fact about your situation and, if the judge doesn’t, you may be able to get the order commanding purchase of insurance reversed. Whether you are the spouse ordered to buy insurance or you are the alimony recipient, it is wise to have the representation of an experienced Florida family law attorney to protect you interests and needs..

A divorce from the panhandle county of Okaloosa, which ended up going all the way to the First District Court of Appeal, was a case where life insurance was a contested issue. The trial judge ordered the husband to pay child support and also to pay $1,500 per month in alimony. The alimony was durational for a period of four years. The court also ordered the husband to purchase a life insurance policy to act as security for the child support and alimony obligations.

In order for a spouse/parent to be required by law to purchase life insurance, there are certain procedural steps that the court must complete. For one thing, the law requires that the judge must make specific factual findings about the supporting spouse/parent’s ability to pay and the recipient spouse/parent’s need, just as the law requires for an award of alimony generally.

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The issue of alimony can be a difficult and contentious one in some divorces. That can be especially true if the former spouse who is now seeking an alimony award is already living with someone new. In spite of all the emotional difficulty that such issues and relationships can create, it is important to understand that not all relationships will impact the calculation of alimony. Whether you are seeking alimony or opposing payment of alimony, make sure you have an experienced Florida family law attorney on your side.

This type of complex set of relationship dynamics was in play in a recent case from Osceola County. The husband and wife were married for 20 years before the couple separated. During the marriage, the wife typically earned less than $15,000 per year working customer service jobs on nights and weekends, so that she could be at home with the couple’s children. The wife had a college degree and a teaching certification, but that certification was no longer valid. She suffered from many medical maladies, including hearing loss, permanent arthritis and several herniated discs in her back. The husband, on the other hand, made in excess of $70,000 per year as the regional branch manager of a library.

After separating, the wife moved into a home that she shared with her boyfriend. That fact factored into the outcome of the wife’s alimony request. The trial court determined that the wife had a need for alimony and the husband had an ability to pay alimony, but the court still awarded no alimony. The reason? The “wife has changed the nature of the request for

In a perfect world, the result you get in the order of final judgment from your divorce case is wholly satisfactory to you. Unfortunately, the real world isn’t a perfect world, and the divorce judgment you get isn’t always ideal. When that happens, you may have certain options for getting it thrown out. One of these is if the judge waited too long after the final hearing to finally hand down the written order of judgment in your case. For all of the legal options available to you, consult a knowledgeable South Florida divorce attorney.

A recent example of a delay triggering a reversal was the divorce case of Elizabeth and Marc. This couple’s divorce litigation was initially a typical case. There was the petition for divorce, pre-trial steps, and then a final hearing. And then nothing…for more than two years. Two and a half years after the final hearing, the court entered a final judgment.

Not happy with that final judgment, the wife appealed. The appeals court agreed that the delay was a problem. That meant that the wife won her appeal and a reversal of the trial court’s order.

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There are several things that are essential in order to make a proposed marital settlement agreement appropriate for you to sign. Any agreement should appropriately protect your interests. The agreement also, though, should be completely clear and unambiguous so that any disputes that arise later will not trigger a whole new round of discovery and litigation. For all of these things, rely upon a skilled Florida divorce attorney to help you get the marital settlement agreement you need.

The case of Michael and Regina was an example of what happens when a marital settlement agreement isn’t unambiguous. When the couple married in 1987, Michael was a seven-year veteran of a local police department in Broward County. In 1989, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office absorbed Michael’s employer. When that happened, the couple decided to cash out the husband’s pension and spend the money.

After becoming an employee of the Broward Sheriff’s Office, the husband became eligible for an account with the Florida Retirement System. The FRS allowed some members, including this husband, to purchase service credit, which meant that the employee would be entitled to a larger benefit when he retired.

There is an old and colorful saying about the perils of making assumptions. The saying, which popped up on a 1973 episode of The Odd Couple, admonishes that you should “never assume” and reveals its lesson by separating the word “assume” into its first through third letters, its fourth letter, and its fifth through sixth letters. Before entering into any contractual agreements, including marital settlement agreements, it would be wise to heed this advice. It would also be wise to seek out the advice and counsel of an experienced Florida divorce attorney.

One case in which one of the spouses didn’t heed that advice was a recent action that originated in Sarasota County. James and Pamela were married for 27 years before their marriage ended in divorce. James was the son of very wealthy parents. In fact, James’ parents’ wealth was the source of the couple’s retirement plan. According to the court, they never saved for retirement; they simply made plans to live in their retirement years off the very large lump-sum inheritance they expected James to get once both of his parents had passed away.

James’ parents survived longer than James’ marriage to Pamela. Thus, when it came time for James and Pamela to enter into a marital settlement agreement, they simply included their assumptions about James’ inheritance in their MSA.

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