Articles Posted in In the News (Divorce)

A Palm Beach County probate case and a divorce action in Broward County might not necessarily seem to have much in common, but two rulings in those cases issued earlier this month share a common link, for each addressed the timely issue of same-sex marriage. Additionally, as the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald reported, each judge in those cases concluded that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage ban is unlawfully discriminatory. The recent rulings follow on the heels of two prior decisions, one each in Monroe and Miami-Dade Counties, that also determined that the marriage ban violated the U.S. Constitution.

The Broward case involved a lesbian couple who married in Vermont in 2002. Four years ago, the couple separated. One of the women recently filed a petition in Broward Circuit Court to dissolve their marriage. One essential legal question in the case regarded whether the Florida courts have the legal authority to dissolve an entity — a same-sex couple’s marriage — that Florida does not recognize as valid in the first place. In addressing that question, Judge Dale Cohen decided that the ban on same-sex marriages violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.

In his 16-page order, Judge Cohen stated that to “discriminate based on sexual orientation … to hold some couples less worthy of legal benefits than others based on their sexual orientation,” Cohen wrote, “is against all that this country holds dear, as it denies equal citizenship. Marriage is a well recognized fundamental right; all people should be entitled to enjoy its benefits.” Last month, Judge Luis Garcia in Monroe County and Miami-Dade County Judge Sarah Zabel reached similar conclusions on the equal protection question.
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A circuit court judge in the Florida Keys recently ruled that the Florida Constitution’s ban on marriages between same-sex partners violates the US Constitution’s equal protection clause, the Miami Herald reported. The ruling, which the state has appealed, could have a wide-reaching impact for many Florida same-sex couples, beyond simply those seeking to marry.

In a ruling issued July 17, Plantation Key-based Judge Luis Garcia decided that, when the Monroe County Clerk’s denied a marriage license to Key West bartenders Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, the state violated the mens’ rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The fact that Florida’s same-sex marriage was the result of a ballot initiative approved by a majority of voters did not matter. According to the court’s decision, it “is our country’s proud history to protect the rights of the individual, the rights of the unpopular and rights of the powerless, even at the cost of offending the majority.”

The ruling applies only to couples seeking to marry in Monroe County. The state Attorney General’s office immediately filed a notice of appeal, which stayed enforcement of Judge Garcia’s ruling. This means that all potential same-sex marriages in the county remain on hold until the court of appeals resolves the state’s appeal, although Huntsman and Jones have asked Judge Garcia to lift the stay and allow the Monroe County Clerk to begin issuing licenses right away.
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On September 5th, the public got even more insight into the now very public life of George Zimmerman (acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin) when his soon-to-be ex-wife filed divorce papers in Seminole County. In August, Shellie Zimmerman was found guilty of perjury and ended up with probation, plus 100 hours community service for her false statements regarding the couple’s finances during George’s bail hearings.

Sheila explained that the couple has been under intense scrutiny from “both sides” and identified the weakness of their marriage as two people fighting their own struggles to be heard by the other. She described their lives around the time of the trial and after as “living like gypsies” for security purposes with constant “babysitter” bodyguards looming over them.

The Zimmerman divorce, despite already being filed, likely hit a snag when on September 9th, Lake Mary police detained Zimmerman for a domestic dispute incident, which was resulted in a panicked 911 call by Sheila claiming George was threatening her and her father with physical violence and a gun. She further alleged George punched her father in the face during the confrontation. Sheila ultimately withdrew some of her statements, and charges were dropped against George.
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The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of a Canadian couple in their suit against an Indiana-based adoption agency after the couple learned of their potential child’s drug addiction.The baby, only days old, began showing signs of drug addiction while still in the hospital. The addiction was inherited from the birth- mother who had abused methadone while pregnant. The couple learned of the child’s condition from a social worker, days after the agency knew.

A Bond of Life Adoptions, the adoption agency operating out of Indiana, originally succeeded in having the couple’s complaint dismissed from trial court. The agency relied on a release clause found in their contract signed by all potential adoptive parents which limits liability against the agency for claims derived from unknown medical conditions of the child or the child’s birth family.

The couple’s complaint, based heavily on a breach of contract theory, cited the failure of the agency to disclose important medical information to the couple which would have affected their decision to adopt. Since the discovery of the condition, the couple withdrew from the adoption process, completely distraught, and has expressed that they will not likely explore further adoption opportunities.

In the court’s opinion overturning the trial court’s dismissal, the court listed an unfortunately long history of adoption agencies hiding behind such releases citing that withholding information is not protected under “unknown medical conditions”.

Adoption providers, such as agencies or attorneys, are often barred from disclosing identifying information regarding the birth parents. However, this does not include medical or psychiatric information which would likely be important for the adoptive parents to know.

Nearly half of the states permit some sort of civil liability against adoption providers for a wrongful omission or commission. One of those states is Florida. Issues like this are another major reason that smart adoptive parents will seek out a knowledgeable experienced family law attorney.

Wrongful adoption suits, recognized in a number of states, vary in the basis of their elements. Most wrongful adoption suits do in some way allege that, through intent or negligence, the adoption provider did not act in good faith to inform the parents of potentially important information. Wrongful adoption claimants typically involve elements of misrepresentation, fraud, negligence, or contractual breach of good faith. Courts look at whether the information not disclosed is “material”. Information is “material” if it would have impacted the adoptive parents’ decision to adopt.

Many couples looking into adoption often explore international adoptions to avoid some of these problems, but US News recently reported on the failures of international adoption providers to diagnose, identify, or explore medical or psychological issues in the child and the child’s family. Plus, suits become incredibly more complicated if not impossible when brought against an international adoption agency.
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Florida Family Court Judge and former prosecutor Susan Aramony, of the 17th Judicial Circuit Court (Broward Circuit), passed away in her Fort Lauderdale home on Monday April 8, 2013.

Ms. Aramony graduated from Emory University School of Law in 1981 and went on to lead a successful career as a prosecutor. After graduation, Ms. Aramony served as a Broward County Assistant State Attorney for the Juvenile Division of Broward County. Prior to her appointment to the bench, Ms. Aramony had ascended to head of the Juvenile Division. During this time, Ms. Aramony operated as a member of the Gang Activity Prevention Advisory Board and as the chairwoman of the Juvenile Justice Board of Broward County.

After having served over 12 years in the Juvenile Division, Governor Jeb Bush appointed her as the Unified Family Court Judge of the 17th Circuit, Broward Circuit in December 1999, taking office the following January. Then-governor Jeb Bush explained his motivation in selecting Ms. Aramony, stating that “Susan’s hands-on experience as an assistant state attorney within Florida’s legal system has given her the knowledge and skills needed to do a tremendous job”. According to Bush, her experience in the juvenile system gave her the perspective to see the harmful effects crime has on the family unit and how to best be fair to the parties. In 2008, Ms. Aramony was re-elected as County Family Court Judge for an additional six year term.

Ms. Aramony’s reputation was renowned throughout the Florida family court system, and her thirteen year legacy on the bench has garnered admiration for her character and dedication. Chief Administrative Judge Peter Weinstein described Ms. Aramony as “one of the most caring, kind and concerned human beings I’ve ever known”. These views were shared by Broward County’s top defense attorneys and prosecutor, with State Attorney Mike Satz describing her as “a very good person who touched the lives of many, many people” and Public Defender Howard Finkelstein recounting that Ms. Aramony was “always fair, as a judge and as a prosecutor”.

Aramony’s family has expressed their wishes that cause of death not be disclosed but mentioned that she was home at rest with her husband and sons when she passed away. However, according to the Daily Business Review Broward affiliate, Ms. Aramony had suffered a long battle with cancer.
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Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court agreed for the first time to hear two cases that challenge state and federal laws that define marriage as being exclusively between a man and a woman. One case challenges a federal law that denies benefits to same-sex spouses in states where gay marriage is legal. Depending on how the Court rules, the other case may decide whether Americans have a constitutional right to marry a partner of the same sex.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear two of seven recently appealed cases that deal with same-sex relationships. The Court’s review will take place at a time when nationwide surveys reportedly show a majority of Americans support same-sex unions. In February 2011, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. stated although the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (DOMA) would continue to be enforced, President Obama believes the law is unconstitutional and would no longer defend it against legal challenges. In addition, nine states now authorize gay couples to marry.

One case the Court agreed to review is a challenge to Section 3 of DOMA. The case arose after one member of a same-sex couple who was married in Canada died. Although the surviving partner inherited all of her spouse’s property, she was required to pay more than $360,000 in estate taxes despite the union. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit struck down DOMA, and the case was quickly appealed. The other case that will be heard by the Supreme Court challenges the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage. Although the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held the ban was unconstitutional, it is unclear whether the high court will limit its holding in the case to the State of California.

Although a number of states now allow gay marriage, many couples face hurdles with regard to Social Security survivor benefits, filing joint tax returns, and inheritance taxes. Gay couples who marry legally and later relocate often face additional legal difficulties. In addition, same-sex couples who split currently face what many refer to as the “gay divorce tax” because a transfer of wealth between former partners is generally more costly from a federal tax perspective. If you are facing the end of a same-sex or other long-term relationship in Florida, a competent family law attorney can explain your legal rights and obligations.

In 1997, the Florida Legislature passed the Florida Defense of Marriage Act. Under the law, the State of Florida will not recognize same-sex unions whether or not they were entered into legally in another state. Although gay and unmarried couples cannot divorce in Florida, important legal issues may be addressed in a legal separation agreement. A separation will normally divide a former couple’s property and debt and address both child custody and support. Facing the end of any long-term relationship is difficult. If you have questions, contact a qualified family lawyer to help you protect your rights.
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According to researchers at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, a husband’s relationship with his wife’s family is a good indicator of future marriage success. A forthcoming study published in the journal Family Relations analyzed 373 married couples over a 26-year-period. At the beginning of the study, all couples were married for less than one year and each spouse was between the ages of 25 and 37. Researchers asked each member of the couple to rate how close they felt to their spouse’s family and then followed the success of each marriage over time. The study reportedly found that couples were 20 percent more likely to remain married when the husband had a good relationship with his in-laws. In addition, couples in which the wife had a good relationship with her spouse’s family were reportedly 20 percent more likely to end their marriage.

Lead study author, Dr Terri Orbuch, believes the disparity may arise from the differing ways in which men and women view themselves and their familial relationships. Orbuch said relationships are generally more important to women, so it is a positive characteristic when a man gets along with his wife’s family. For women, Orbuch stated, their role as a wife and mother tends to be very important. Orbuch believes women may become too involved in their husband’s family and fail to set boundaries. Consequently, any statements made by even a well-meaning in-law are often interpreted as meddling. Men, on the other hand, allegedly identify most with their role as a provider. According to Orbuch, husbands are simply much less likely to take the actions of their in-laws personally.

Sadly, 46 percent of the couples in the study later divorced. Although no one expects divorce to happen to them, about half of all marriages in the United States will eventually be dissolved. If you are considering marriage, you should discuss entering into a premarital agreement with your future spouse. A prenuptial agreement is a contract between the members of a couple that is signed prior to marriage. Normally, such an agreement will address how a couple’s assets will be distributed if the marriage ends. It will also describe any spousal support obligations that may arise in the event of a divorce or the death of a spouse. Entering into a premarital agreement is always a smart move. Many Florida couples who fail to enter into a prenuptial agreement before they marry later regret their decision. If you have questions about premarital agreements, you should contact a skilled family law attorney.
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Last month, North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre’s nephew, Ricardo Brutus, was recently arrested and charged with felony charges for practicing law without a license. He was released from the Miami-Dade County Jail after posting a $25,000 bond.

Brutus’s arrest comes while he is awaiting trial in a separate case. He was previously arrested on March 25, 2011 and charged with unlawful compensation.

His recent charges stem from a Florida Bar complaint by a lawyer who claims that Brutus signed his name on two Miami divorce petitions filed in 2009. The lawyer who reported Brutus stated that he paid him to file cases or complete petitions, but he did not authorize him to sign documents which should only be filed by divorce lawyers in South Florida.

35-year-old World Wrestling Entertainment star and Tampa resident John Cena has reportedly filed for divorce from his high school sweetheart after three years of marriage. According to Cena’s divorce filing, the couple’s marriage is “irretrievably broken.” His soon to be ex-wife, Liz Huberdeau, has allegedly hired the same Miami divorce attorney who represented Linda Hogan in her divorce from former professional wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan. In that case, Hogan’s ex-wife was awarded nearly 70 percent of the couple’s assets.

Cena is currently worth an estimated $18 million. Prior to the couple’s wedding, Huberdeau reportedly signed a prenuptial agreement that will make it difficult for her to access most of Cena’s assets. According to some news reports, the agreement even allows Cena to recover gifts given to his wife during the couple’s marriage. Although Cena is unlikely to be required to share the bulk of his assets with his soon to be ex-wife, it will be interesting to see how the court handles the case since the couple has been involved in a relationship for the past 14 years. They do not have any children.

The split is expected to get ugly as reports claim Huberdeau was shocked when Cena filed for divorce. Although the couple was allegedly having marital issues, Huberdeau was reportedly convinced they would be worked out amicably. According to news reports, Cena asked Huberdeau to sign a pre-divorce settlement agreement prior to filing for divorce. She allegedly refused to sign the document.

In the State of Florida, a prenuptial agreement is a written contract signed prior to a marriage that outlines how a couple’s assets will be divided in the event of divorce or death. Cena should benefit from having a prenuptial agreement in place prior to his marriage as negotiations over assets and spousal support obligations should have been decided well in advance of the marriage. Unfortunately, it is common for individuals with few assets to enter into a marriage without a prenuptial agreement in place. Too often, they later regret their choice.

Postnuptial agreements can also be a useful tool for Florida couples who are contemplating a separation or divorce. A postnuptial agreement will normally address how marital assets will be divided and outline any spousal support obligations. Although such agreements may also include provisions regarding child custody and support, they are always subject to modification by a Florida family law court.
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More than $31 million in last minute statewide budget cuts have Florida’s court clerks scrambling to reduce costs. Proposed funding to the various offices was cut in the last two weeks of the 2012 legislative session. As a result of the budget cuts, the state’s court clerks claim civil cases such as divorces will likely be significantly delayed well into 2013.

Court clerks receive, process, and store all Florida case documents. Their budgets were cut by 17 percent in 2009. After lawmakers cut court clerk budgets by another seven percent earlier this year, the clerks held an emergency meeting on March 14th to discuss the ramifications. Sharon Bock, Palm Beach County Clerk, said her office alone has seen a $10 million decrease in funding during the last three years. Bock believes she cannot operate the court in a constitutional manner if she reduces her staff any further. Instead, she plans on tabling technology expenditures and cutting staff overtime. As a result, Bock has warned that civil courts in Palm Beach County will be disturbed and residents can expect to have their patience tested.

Bock predicts lines will be longer this year at the Palm Beach County Clerk’s office. She also believes a general backlog in civil cases such as divorces will necessarily follow the most recent round of budget cuts. The constitution mandates due process and the right to a speedy trial in criminal cases. Unfortunately for divorcing couples and others, such requirements do not extend to civil cases. Constitutional requirements, budget cuts, and an increase in foreclosure and red-light camera ticket cases means more civil cases will likely be delayed.

If you are considering divorce, it is important to remember that Florida is a no-fault divorce state. This means no one needs to be blamed for the end of a Florida marriage. If the parents of minor children choose to dissolve their marriage, the former couple’s final judgment of divorce will include a custody arrangement and a parenting plan, also called a time-sharing plan. A Florida time-sharing plan will outline which parent a child will spend overnights, holidays, and other days with each week or month. If you are faced with divorce or another stressful family law matter, it is a good idea to contact an experienced Florida family law attorney to help you navigate the legal process. Having legal counsel on your side during a contested marital or family law matter can have a significant effect on your future.
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