In Simmonds v. Perkins, No. SC17-1963 (Fla. 2018), the Florida Supreme Court decided to take up the question of whether a biological father is entitled to rebut the common law presumption that the mother’s husband is the legal father of a child born to an intact marriage, where the mother or her husband object to allowing such rebuttal.  The Court held that the biological father may rebut the presumption of legitimacy when he has “manifested a substantial and continuing concern” for the welfare of the child.  The presumption of legitimacy may be overcome by a “clear and compelling reason based primarily on the child’s best interests.”

fatherThis case involved the child’s mother, Treneka Simmonds, and biological father, Connor Perkins, and their daughter.  When Perkins and Simmonds were together, Perkins was never told Simmonds was married to a man named Shaquan Ferguson.  When Perkins did find out Simmonds was married, she told him she was married for “immigration purposes” and was going to get a divorce.  Perkins was there when the child was born, taken the child to the doctor, enrolled the child in daycare, and even had sole physical custody for awhile.  The child called him “daddy.”  Perkins’ mother is also know as her grandmother.

Perkins decided to file a petition to determine paternity, timesharing, and child support.  Simmonds moved to dismiss the action based on it being barred by the common law presumption of legitimacy because Simmonds was married to Ferguson.  Perkins then added Ferguson as an additional party, amended his petition to seek disestablishment of Ferguson’s paternity, and alleged it would be in the child’s best interests for him to be recognized as her legal father.  Ferguson also moved to dismiss under common law.  The trial court dismissed Perkins’ petition because of previous Fourth District precedent stating that the putative father cannot seek paternity when the child was born in an intact marriage and the married woman and her husband object.

In 2016, Angelina Jolie filed for divorce from Brad Pitt after he got into an altercation with his son Maddox on a plane that resulted in an FBI investigation.  You may have heard about the custody battle with their six children that has ensued.  Recently, a judge apparently ordered “new restrictions” regarding Angelina’s participation in how Brad interacts with the children.

Child custodyThe Judge wrote, “[The children] not having a relationship with their father is harmful to them.  It is critical that each of them have a healthy and strong relationship with their father and mother.”  The Judge also state, “If the minor children remain closed down to their father and depending on the circumstances surrounding this condition, it may result in a reduction of the time they spend with [Jolie] and may result in the Court ordering primary physical custody to [Pitt].”  The Judge created a visitation schedule for Brad to see his children over the summer with the children continuing to receive therapy.

It seems the Judge is trying to prevent parental alienation.  Parental alienation is the psychological manipulation of a child into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent and/or other family members.  Check out 9 warning signs that parental alienation might be present here.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his third wife, Judith, are currently involved in a heated divorce.  A day after filing for divorce on April 4, 2018, the parties filed for each other to produce a statement of net worth to determine assets.  The Giulianis have been married for 15 years and they do not have a prenuptial agreement.

prenupIn 2007, when Rudy Giuliani submitted his financial disclosure to the Federal Election Commission while running for president, he was worth an estimated $30 million.  The couple own properties in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida.  It is estimated that there is currently an estimated $60 million in assets at stake. When he married Judith, Rudy was pretty much insolvent and the money he has now was earned while he was married to Judith.  New York is a separate property state, but her participation in his success could be a factor for the assets to be split 50/50.

In Florida, mandatory disclosure applies so the Giulianis would not need to file for a statement of net worth.  Mandatory Disclosure is the procedure where financial information is automatically disclosed by the parties upon the filing of a divorce.  The parties must exchange financial information in the form of a financial affidavit and additional documents such as tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, deeds, vehicle titles, insurance policies, etc. Mandatory disclosure must be completed within 45 days after service on the respondent.

For any father who is involved in a Florida paternity action, it can be overwhelming to learn that you may have to pay not only child support, but retroactive child support and birth expenses for the child.  Is there any way to limit the cost of what has to be paid to the mother for the time period prior to the paternity ordered being entered?  The answer is:  it’s possible.

Baby paternityFlorida Statute 742.031 provides that in a paternity action, the court shall order the father to pay moneys sufficient to pay reasonable attorney’s fees, hospital or medical expenses, cost of confinement, and any other expenses incident to the birth of the child and to pay all costs of the proceeding, if appropriate.   The statute provides that bills for pregnancy, child birth, and scientific testing are admissible as evidence without requiring third-party foundation testimony and shall constitute prima facie evidence of amounts incurred for such services or for testing on behalf of the child.

Where it can be tricky is what is “appropriate” as defined in the statute?  In Dustan v. Weatherspoon, 505 So.2d 23 (Fla. 3rdDCA 1987), there was an appeal of a paternity action’s child support order.  The mother alleged that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to require the child’s father to pay any portion of the expenses incidental to the birth of the minor child.  The appellate court agreed with the mother.  The court stated: “These rather minimal child support requirements seem to us the least that a father should be expected to do for his child, providing, of course, the father can afford it.”

National headlines were made when the wife of former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover was arrested for domestic violence battery and resisting arrest in St. Johns County, Florida on May 13, 2018.  The altercation allegedly occurred after Lucas Glover missed the 54-hole cut at The Players Championship.  Lucas Glover told authorities that his wife gets violent every time he does not play well in a major PGA Tournament.  There were allegedly visible injuries on Lucas Glover and his mother.  Krista Glover faces a court date on May 31, 2018 and was released on a $2,500 bond.

The Glovers children were present at the home when the incident happened.  Krista Glover had been drinking throughout the day and started yelling profane insults at Lucas Glover in front of their children and his mother.  Lucas Glover told her to stop the argument while in front of the children.  The children were in bed when the physical altercation happened, and it is unknown if they observed any of the altercation or the subsequent arrest afterwards where Krista Glover allegedly resisted arrest. The couple was married in 2012 and have two children, a two-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter.

The consequences of arguments in front of the children can be serious to both the aggressor and the victim.  The Florida Department of Children and Families may become involved if they receive an abuse report to investigate regarding the situation, which could even lead to possible removal of the children from both parties if it is alleged Lucas Glover failed to protect the children from multiple instances.  Also, it is key that alcohol was involved.  Drinking is perfectly legal and acceptable; as long as there is not a demonstrable effect on the children.  If there is a demonstrable effect on the children, alcohol treatment would most likely be ordered by a dependency court.

The Florida Supreme Court, on March 30, 2017, issued an opinion in Hooker v. Hooker, 220 So.3d 397 (Fla. 2017) finding a Florida horse farm and a New York summer home interspousal gifts and, therefore, subject to equitable distribution as marital property despite a prenuptial agreement in existence.  The prenuptial agreement provided that, upon divorce, each party would retain his or her premarital assets and any appreciation of those assets. Both parties had independent sources of income from family inheritances and they maintained separate finances throughout the marriage.  The parties were married for 23 years.

giftThe Florida horse farm, “Hickstead,” was purchased in 1989 and the Hickstead deed listed “Alice I. Hooker Trust FBO, for the benefit of, Timothy I. Hooker” as the grantee.  Husband and Wife signed the mortgage on Hickstead.  When Hickstead was purchased, it was vacant land and it later became through the course of the marriage a working horse farm with 16 stalls, etc. and the marital home in one wing upstairs and the other wing was the staff apartment.  Wife was “extremely and directly involved in all aspects of the Hickstead residence which was the family’s primary home for approximately 20 years,” according to the findings of the trial court.  Wife was not limited or restricted in any way from incurring the costs and expenses of maintaining and operating a family home at Hickstead, from the Husband’s assets. Wife was provided unfettered access to the stables and horses to pursue her lifelong passion.

The New York summer home, “Lake George,” was purchased in 1997 and was titled only in the Husband’s name and only Husband signed the mortgage.  It was purchased, built and maintained as a summer residence for the family.  The Husband paid the expenses for Lake George with his independent funds and Wife was never a signatory on that account and never had access to that account. However, the Husband sent Wife a card for their tenth wedding anniversary with a picture of the property after the Wife had expressed a desire to have a home up north and both parties searched for a suitable property.

Equitable distribution of assets in Florida divorces can be a complex and divisive issue.  Regarding trusts and divorces, you can walk a fine line between a marital asset and a non-marital asset.  Enhancement in value and appreciation can be a marital asset in certain situations.

Oxley v. Oxley, 695 So.2d 364 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997) is a case that is especially relevant regarding a person placing their property in a revocable trust with themselves as trustee, hiring a financial manager to make the daily investment decisions, and thereby protecting themselves from the Florida Statute § 61.075(6)(a)(1).  This section provides marital assets and liabilities to include the enhancement in value and appreciation of non-marital assets resulting either from the efforts of either party during the marriage or from the contribution to or expenditure thereon of marital funds or other forms of marital assets, or both.  Meaning, technically, a non-marital trust’s appreciation of value could be considered marital property unless specific requirements are followed.  Oxley spells out how to avoid appreciation being considered in the dissolution of marriage.Tightrope distribution

In Oxley, the parties’ marital income was primarily from trust distributions to the husband which he supplemented with a salary taken as president of a family holding company.  The trust is revocable and was established prior to the marriage by the husband that provides that all income is payable to husband.  The investment decisions for the trust was made for the husband’s exclusive benefit by the trustee based on the advice of the husband’s father and brother.  It had multiple, active investments such as several working oil wells.  On one occasion the husband invested $400,000 of trust funds through a separate money manager.  At the time of the marriage, the trust was valued at $2 million and then increased to $7 million at the time of dissolution; and the increase was attributable to undistributed income that has accumulated during the marriage and upon which he paid personal income tax.  The trust also owned and paid the expenses on the marital home.  The husband also owned 50% of a corporation found to be a gift (technically purchased for a nominal amount) from his father.  As company president, the husband’s activities were largely ministerial and ceremonial, and he left the management and investment decisions to others.  The trial court in Oxley ruled that the trust, including the undistributed income, were non-marital assets, which significantly limited the wife’s equitable distribution.

Equitable distribution in Florida during a divorce can be a frightening prospect.  What are the rules regarding distribution of assets of a trust in a divorce?  Does the divorce court have the authority to distribute trust assets?

AssetsThe appellate courts in Florida have addressed this issue.  The appellate court held that without consent from all beneficiaries to the trust, the trial court did not have the authority to distribute any asset of the trust.  See Sylvester v. Sylvester, 557 So.2d 599, 600 (Fla. 4th DCA 1990).  In Sylvester, the court held that the trial court’s finding that the irrevocable trust, which was the only source from which the husband could comply with the judgment, could be terminated by husband at any time, was erroneous due to the court’s failure to have all indispensable parties before it.  The trust would have to be before the court joined with the trustee and beneficiaries.

Similarly, in Minsky v. Minsky, 779 So.2d 375 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2000), the appellate court reversed the determination that trust funds are a marital asset and the resulting equitable distribution in a dissolution action.  The trial court incorrectly determined that because the parties had used the trust accounts as marital funds, the funds had “taken on the nature of a marital asset” and awarded the trust funds to the wife.  The appellate court indicated that, in effect, the trial court dissolved the trust created for the children’s benefit and the husband as trustee and declared it a marital asset.  The court held that the trial court does not have jurisdiction to adjudicate property rights of nonparties.

In a Florida divorce case, sometimes, a marital asset can become non-marital property of one spouse by contract.  Or one spouse can become the beneficial owner of marital property by transferring it to an irrevocable trust.

PropertyIn Nelson v. Nelson, 206 So.3d 818 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2016), a husband and wife transferred an out-of-state home to an irrevocable trust that had the wife as sole trustee.  The appellate court ruled that because the husband waived all right to alter, amend, modify, revoke, or terminate the trust, and the trust instrument did not contain a provision dissolving the trust upon divorce, the trust was irrevocable.  The court ruled that the out-of-state home was not marital property subject to equitable distribution in a divorce.  Neither the wife nor the beneficiary daughter had applied for modification or revocation of the trust, so the court could not dissolve the trust.

This case illustrates an example of how property can be classified in a divorce.  When the husband bought the out-of-state property and jointly titled it with his wife, the home became marital property.  When the husband transferred the home to the trust, it ceased being marital property and became non-marital.  In addition, the Nelson court cites to Hansen v. Bothe, 10 So.3d 213 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2009) regarding the Former Husband’s Trust instrument not containing a provision dissolving the Trust upon divorce.  In Hansen, the court held that divorce of husband and wife who were co-settlors and co-trustees of a revocable trust, did not terminate the trust even though wife relinquished any rights she had under the trust as part of the divorce.  The trust in Hansen contained no provision terminating it upon divorce of co-settlors, and the trust explicitly provided for replacement trustees in the event the original trustees ceased to serve.

Non-marital assets and liabilities are defined in Florida Family Law as 1) assets acquired and liabilities incurred by either party prior to the marriage, and assets acquired and liabilities incurred in exchange for such assets and liabilities; 2) Assets acquired separately by either party by noninterspousal gift, bequest, devise, or descent, and assets acquired in exchange for such assets; 3) All income derived from nonmarital assets during the marriage unless the income was treated, used, or relied upon by the parties as a marital asset; 4) assets and liabilities excluded from marital assets and liabilities by valid written agreement of the parties, and assets acquired and liabilities incurred in exchange for such assets.  See Fla. Stat. § 61.075(6)(b)(1-4).

In a dissolution of marriage case, the court must set apart each spouse’s non-marital assets and liabilities and marital assets and liabilities and must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal absent justification for unequal distribution pursuant to factors under the statute.  See Fla. Stat. § 61.075(1).  Assets acquired before marriage are not marital assets and remain the property of the owner spouse in the absence of evidence of a gift or conveyance of the assets to the owner’s spouse.  See Moss v. Moss, 829 So.2d 302 (Fla. 5th DCA 2002); see also Canakaris v. Canakaris, 382 So.2d 1197 (Fla. 1980).  Essentially, the court in Horton v. Horton, 433 So.2d 1386 (Fla. 5th DCA 1983) stated:

“When a marriage partner brings his or her own property to the marriage and does not make a transfer of the asset or any portion of it to the spouse then that asset remains separate property.  Upon dissolution of the marriage the asset is still owned by the original owner.  Unless the asset, or a portion of it, is awarded as lump sum alimony then the court must recognize the proper ownership of the property and not take it from the owner.”

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