Articles Posted in Divorce

Here in today’s modern electronic age, there are many things we have to navigate that people even just a generation ago did not. One of these things is computerized processes for filing court papers in your Florida family court case. Whereas everyone might have delivered a paper document to a human deputy at the court clerk’s office in the 1990s, today the rules of procedure allow filing electronic documents via an Internet website.

As we all well know, technology can be great… when it works. However, would you know what to do if your very important filing in your divorce case got rejected as late due to technology problems that were no fault of your own? It is reasonable to imagine you might not. To make sure your case or appeal gets the hearing it deserves, and that you are equipped to handle all the “bumps in the road,” no matter how unexpected, be sure you have an experienced South Florida family law attorney on your side.

L.B. was a man who found himself in that position. He was going through a divorce in St. Lucie County and, after the judge issued the final judgment, he and his attorney determined that it was in his best interest to appeal. The law gives you 30 days to file your appeal document known as a “Notice of Appeal.” L.B.’s notice, if he wanted to file one, was due on January 9, 2019. His lawyer attempted to file on that day. (There are several very legitimate reasons why it might be helpful, necessary or unavoidable to wait to file until near or on the last day.)

Sometimes, success in your case is about the facts, sometimes it’s about the law, sometimes it’s about the rules of court procedure and sometimes it’s a combination of the above. That is one reason among many why it pays to have skillful South Florida family law counsel on your side fighting for you. You know the facts of your case, but you probably don’t know all the details and specifics of Florida law or of Florida’s procedure rules. Your skilled attorney can help you make sure that the case you put on is the strongest one possible.

Your attorney can also help you spot problems that occur in your case. Sometimes, the judge in your case may do something the law doesn’t allow. Even if it was harmful to you, it very possibly was something that you did not know was impermissible. Again, having a knowledgeable advocate helps.

As an example, there’s H.F. and C.R.’s case. They were a couple whose divorce was finalized in late 2007. There was also a supplemental judgment issued in 2010. The judgments stated that certain personal property (that was being shipped from Kuwait) worth $100,000 was to go to the husband. The husband was ordered to pay the wife $111,000 over the course of four years, at $2,320 per month.

When you are the spouse or parent who is potentially responsible for paying alimony or child support, there are a lot of financial factors that go into calculating exactly how much that obligation should be. One of the things that the law requires courts to consider is other payments that benefit your spouse and/or child. For example, if you are paying the mortgage payment on the house in which your spouse lives, that payment could be declared to be a type of spousal support. Similarly, paying 100% of your children’s private school tuition might qualify as a form of child support. These areas can be especially important when you’re in a case where you are potentially facing an order to pay retroactive support.

Two recent cases show how the process is supposed to work, and what you can do when it doesn’t. In the first, J.C.J. and M.J. were Palm Beach County parents going through divorce. At the conclusion of the divorce case, the trial judge made several rulings about alimony and child support. One of the rulings demanded that the father pay retroactive child support.

The father later appealed and won a reversal of the retroactive child support order. The reason? When the trial judge made that ruling, he didn’t factor in the mortgage payments that the father had made. The father had evidence that he had been the one who paid the mortgage payments on the home in which the child lived during the pendency of the divorce. Florida law says that a supporting parent is entitled to receive credit for “actual payments” made to the child or to the other parent. They’re also entitled to credit when making payments to third parties for the benefit of the child. That includes things like payments to lenders or landlords to cover the housing payment for the home in which the child resides. This father didn’t get that credit, which is why he was entitled to have his retroactive child support recalculated.

There are almost as many family law situations as there are families, it seems sometimes. Fortunately, lawmakers have taken efforts to address many situations, including some relatively unique ones. You may not be aware, but in Florida, there is a statute that covers what happens if you (or your children) are not receiving the support you should — and you want to get that financial support – but you do not want to pursue a divorce right away. You can seek alimony “unconnected with” divorce. Taking this step does not mean the court will enter an order of divorce; this tool is designed to allow judges to institute court-ordered support without ending the marriage. Also, be aware that you can choose, if you want, to seek court-ordered support “unconnected with dissolution” now and, if the marriage breaks down later, still seek a divorce at that later date.

This tool allows you to obtain the support you need without having to pursue divorce when the marriage isn’t necessarily irretrievably broken. What this should signify to you is that there’s probably more tools in a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney’s “tool belt” than you might have imagined, so be sure your situation has the wise legal counsel your family deserves.

Let’s look at this legal concept using a recent case. R.L. and P.L. were a married couple. The husband had executed a “power of attorney” document, which is a type of estate planning document in which you can name another person to act as your agent to carry out certain legal, financial and/or medical decision-making tasks (that you list in the document.)

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Marital settlement agreements (MSAs) can be wonderfully helpful tools for some divorcing couples in reducing the amount of time, stress and acrimony that can sometimes be involved in litigating issues before a judge. The key to resolving your issues by agreement, though, is to be sure that you fully understand everything in your agreement and that the agreement is a fair resolution. To aid in those goals, as well as all the other ones related to your case, be sure you have reliable South Florida family law counsel on your side.

For an example of how a seemingly straightforward MSA can eventually lead to considerable litigation, there’s the recent case of H.W. and D.W. As a bit of background, H.W. and D.W. had been married for 17+ years when they divorced in 2008. That meant that, under Florida law, theirs was a “long-term” marriage, which could potentially impact certain divorce-related things like alimony.

The couple, however, resolved alimony (among other things) through an MSA. The spouses signed not only an MSA, but also an addendum to that agreement. The documents required the husband to make monthly alimony payments to the wife of 30% of his income or $2,000, which ever was more. The agreement also required him to keep paying until she died, remarried or entered into a cohabitative relationship.

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The law is full of multisyllabic words that sound almost like a foreign language to most any lay person. However, within all of that “legalese” can sometimes be found some rules or standards of law that can make all the difference between success and failure in your case. Family law is no exception. While there’s no reason why you, as a lay person, should know what a “rebuttable presumption” is, it is something that can make all the difference between receiving an award of permanent alimony and receiving an award of alimony that lasts only a few years. All of this just goes to show that your family law case needs the skill and knowledge of an experienced South Florida family law attorney.

As an example, take the case of E.G. and R.G. The pair had been together for what Florida law defines as a “long-term” marriage. In Florida, a marriage of less than 7 years is deemed to be a “short-term” marriage, 7-17 years is a medium-term marriage and more than 17 years is long-term. These distinctions can matter a great deal when it comes to divorce issues like alimony. For example, if your marriage meets Florida law’s definition of a long-term marriage, and you are the spouse entitled to receive alimony, then the law says that there is a “rebuttable presumption” that you are entitled to permanent alimony.

So, what does that “rebuttable presumption” language mean? Unlike most situations (where a contested topic is considered not proven until one party presents sufficient evidence to prove it), a topic that is the subject of a rebuttable presumption is considered to be true until the opposing party proves that it isn’t.

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For many couples, an uncontested divorce, or at least reaching mutual agreement on some of your issues, can be a very helpful and important part of the divorce process. The more matters upon which you agree, the fewer things  you will have to litigate in front of the judge. This can save time and money and possibly reduce acrimony. When you resolve an issue or issues by agreement, though, it is very important to be careful you understand how that agreement is structured. Even just minute inclusions or exclusions in your agreement can massively alter the impact on you in the long run. This is one of many reasons why you should consult an experienced South Florida family law attorney before signing off on any agreement.

For an example of what we mean, look at the divorce case of D.I., a husband from the Tampa Bay area. D.I. and his wife reached an agreement on the issue of alimony. The terms of that agreement were eventually included in the couple’s stipulated divorce decree. The decree stated that the husband owed the wife $800 per month in alimony and that the alimony obligation was to continue for the remainder of the wife’s life.

There was no “or until the wife remarries” wording or “until the wife remarries or enters a supportive relationship” language. The decree contained no wording at all that allowed for termination of the husband’s alimony obligation other than at her death.

A divorce case may often revolve around matters like child custody and child support, alimony and property issues like who gets the house and the cars. Other times, they’re much more complex, especially if one or both spouses held ownership interests in one or more companies. When that happens, it is particularly important have knowledgeable Florida family law counsel on your side to make sure that your issues are handled skillfully.

C.B. and K.B. were a couple whose case presented that type of situation. They separated in 2014 after almost nine years of marriage. The pair had two sons together. They also owned and operated several businesses together.

When a couple like this divorces, there are a wide variety of issues they may need to resolve. In that type of situation, the more issues you can resolve through agreement, the more time and expense you may be able to save. Even then, it is important to be sure you get the right marital settlement agreement. In this couple’s case, they were able to resolve all issues related to their children, but division of assets was not something upon which they could agree completely. They agreed upon most asset-related things, but could not decide how to divide a real estate holding company that they co-owned.

A few years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a case involving an ex-wife, a surviving widow and a deceased man’s life insurance proceeds. The man had named the ex-wife as his beneficiary while they were still married, and then never changed that designation. The widow argued that she should get the money because she was the surviving spouse. The ex-wife argued that the money was hers because the law required honoring the designation attached to the policy. The court ruled for the ex-wife, because the law allows for disregarding beneficiary designations only in rare circumstances, and this was not one of those.

What does all this mean if you are named as the beneficiary of your ex-spouse’s life insurance policy as part of your divorce settlement? If your ex-spouse subsequently creates a new beneficiary designation without your knowledge that names someone new after your divorce is finalized, will the law honor that changed designation and will you lose that insurance money when your ex-spouse dies? As a recent case originating in the Orlando area demonstrates, the answer is no. As always, to find out exactly how the law applies to your specific circumstances, be sure to consult a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney.

D.P., a physician, was married to R.P. for 25 years, divorcing in 2006. The divorce agreement required the husband to pay the wife $6,000 per month in alimony. As is not uncommon in alimony award situations, especially larger ones, the court ordered the husband to obtain a life insurance policy to secure the alimony award and to name R.P. as the policy’s death beneficiary. Without R.P.’s knowledge, the husband changed the beneficiary designation in 2011 to name Melinda (the woman who would become his third wife in 2013) as the beneficiary. R.P. knew nothing about this change until after D.P. died.

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Three decades ago, there was a popular TV comedy featuring four senior women sharing a home here in sunny South Florida. The eldest occasionally tried to impart her “wisdom” by telling stories from her youth, urging her listeners to “picture it,” and then describing the setting. So, in that tradition… picture it: you’re in a courtroom in your divorce case –- on your own — facing the judge and your spouse and your spouse’s lawyer. Both you and the other side have made motions asking the judge to do certain things. While you’re in the hearing, the judge suggests to your spouse’s attorney what motions that lawyer should file. The judge also makes a suggestion that that attorney not file another motion that the lawyer was contemplating.

That would be pretty intimidating, would it not? You’re there on your own and your spouse has counsel but it is your spouse’s side that the judge seems to be helping out. Would you think that you have any recourse? The reality is that you do have options in a circumstance like that. One option to which you should definitely avail yourself is retaining legal counsel. Having a skilled South Florida family law attorney on your side can help level the playing field.

This scenario allegedly happened in a real-life case recently. A wife and a husband were in court in their divorce case disputing the wife’s alleged improper sale of certain assets contained in storage units. The husband had a lawyer; the wife didn’t. The judge in the case allegedly suggested that the husband’s lawyer file a motion to show cause and that, as part of that request, the judge “would be happy” to haul into court the third party to whom the wife allegedly sold the assets. The judge later allegedly offered an opinion that the husband’s lawyer should avoid filing a different motion the lawyer was considering.

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