Articles Posted in Alimony

Child support is essentially a payment from the higher income parent to the lower income parent.  Child support and timesharing have an interesting relationship.  The law values the child and parent relationship.  A parent’s right to timesharing is not dependent upon being current in child support.  It is a frequent mistake among individuals to assume that timesharing can be denied if an Obligor parent fails to keep up with his or her child support.  Such has no such relationship to Florida law.

Another misconception is that child support must go to the child specifically.  However, it is a general purpose reimbursement which covers the cost of living in a household with children.  The amount of child support paid by each parent is dependent upon the amount the Florida child support guidelines determine.  The number of overnights the child or children spend with each parent is one of the factors used to decide a parent’s child support under Florida’s guidelines.  There is a chart that is published within the Florida Statutes that shows the amount of child support a child is entitled to.

Florida law requires that generally, where there are minor children then child support should be paid.  The principle behind this general rule is that entitlement to support belongs to the children and parents cannot decide not to pay support.  There are situations in which a parent does not have a child support obligation.  In Florida, this must either be because the amount of support owed is very minimal, as determined by the guidelines, or the specific reasons must be enumerated in the child support order.  The law allows up to a 5% deviation from the guidelines without further enumeration.  Florida has a form known as a Child Support Guideline Worksheet which is required to be filed in every divorce and paternity case where child support is determined.  The guidelines account for some of the specific costs of supporting a child, such as health insurance and uncovered medical expenses.  As long as a parent is awarded at least 20 percent of the overnights, overnights are a specific factor used to determine a parent’s support.  Items like rent, electricity, water, and food are essential items that are not specifically accounted for in the guidelines.  Other items that are specifically accounted for under the guidelines are taxes, daycare, and medical costs.

Unwed fathers may believe that it is unlikely or impossible to gain custody of their child when they were never married to the child’s mother.  Fathers with this attitude should think again, as the courts and society have realized that fathers can be every bit as responsible as mothers in rearing a child.  The court system may still have a few vestiges of what was known as “The tender years doctrine”.  Such is the idea that a young child should primarily be cared for by their mother.  However, most judges today that I have encountered no longer display any indication that this philosophy still exists.  The reality is that a caring father can be every bit as nurturing and responsible as a caring mother.

In Florida, paternity is established by filing an action in the Circuit Court.  The action is known as a paternity action.  The petition should be titled a Petition for Paternity and Related Relief or a similar name.  There is no legal presumption for or against a father obtaining what used to be called primary custody.  The court’s have changed from using the term custody to using the term timesharing.  It is supposed to promote the idea of the children being shared between parents.  I personally do not believe that much has changed because of the change in terminology.  That said, the law has changed regarding child support in that the non primary residential parent (the parent that has minority timesharing) can now receive a reduction in child support if he or she has the child for at least 20 percent of the overnights.  The prior rule required the non majority parent to exercise at least 40 percent of the overnights to get a reduction in child support.

In a paternity suit, a father attempting to obtain timesharing must request either shared parental responsibility or sole parental responsibility.  Sole parental responsibility is exactly what it sounds like and so is shared parental responsibility.  Even people with serious criminal histories frequently are awarded shared parental responsibility.  Florida has enumerated the factors that it considers important and that a judge must take into account in deciding custody issues between parents.  They can be found in Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes.  In short, they equate to the best interests of the child.

Adultery can certainly be a factor in a divorce.  However, adultery is only relevant for limited purposes.  Florida is sometimes referred to as a no-fault divorce state.  This only means that proving fault is not required to obtain a divorce.  There are only two reasons that are acceptable in Florida to obtain a divorce.  The most common reason is that the parties have irreconcilable differences.  The other is that a spouse is mentally incompetent.

A Court can consider adultery from either spouse, as well as the circumstances involved in making a determination concerning alimony.  A considerable amount of discretion is placed in a judge’s hands in determining if alimony should be paid and if so, how much should be paid.  F.S. 61.13(3)(f).

Although technically, adultery is not a factor that the court considers in making custody (now know as timesharing) decisions, adultery can be a factor regarding custody issues.  The Florida Statutes do allow the court to consider the moral fitness of a party in making a custody determination.  F.S. 61.13(3)(f).  If a parent can show the court that a parent’s adultery will affect the child, the trier of the fact can consider whether a party’s adultery impacts the best interest of the child or children.  In the case Jacoby v. Jacoby, the court determined that the mere possibility of adultery having a negative impact regarding timesharing is not sufficient to make the adultery a consideration.  Packard v. Packard, 697 So.2d 1292 (1st DCA 1997).  The important dynamic is whether a party’s adultery will have a direct effect on the welfare of a child.  Dinkel v. Dinkel, 322 So.2d (Fla. 1975).

Family law clients always ask me, “What is a QDRO?”  (pronounced informally “Quad-Row”) QDRO is an acronym for Qualified Domestic Relations Order, which is a court order that grants a party a right to a portion of the retirement benefits his or her former spouse has earned through participation in an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Federal law states that a retirement benefit can only be divided between former spouses if there is a QDRO.  Retirement plans can be a huge asset in a marriage that may be forgotten in a divorce, so its key for clients to educate themselves on division of this marital asset.

QDRO divorceIn a divorce, a family law attorney needs to determine what retirement plan each party owns through mandatory disclosure by the formal, legal plan name.  It is important to know the value of each plan, the valuation date used to value the plan, what ancillary benefits are associated with the plan (for example, market fluctuations, survivor benefits, subsidies/supplements, and interest credits), the correct method of division for the plan, and will the retirement plan accept a QDRO.  Disclosure is important in obtaining this information and the plan’s summary description. It is also important to obtain the plan’s divorce transfer and QDRO guidelines, if available.  Obtaining a statement for the plan as of your desired valuation date will assist you in a smooth QDRO process.  For federal government employees, retirement plans are divided by a COAP, which stands for Court Order Acceptable for Processing.

Your divorce decree will not be enough to divide a retirement benefit in most cases.  A QDRO is a separate document from the divorce decree. It is always better to file a QDRO with the retirement plan as soon as possible.  If the former spouse retires after the divorce is final, and the QDRO has not been filed with the plan, the plan will begin paying out the benefit to the former spouse and only future payments will be affected.

That dreaded word in a divorce:  Alimony. Alimony is determined by the court after looking at one party’s actual need versus one party’s ability to pay. After equitable distribution is determined, the court reviews what money is left over, if anything, and considers the parties’ circumstances to come up with a fair award.  Some questions to answer:

  • Length of the marriage
  • Standard of living the parties are accustomed to

In some marriages, a spouse’s parents may supplement the family income with monetary gifts, which may be an issue later on if the husband and wife divorce.  Can one spouse argue that the other spouse will have higher income due to the monetary gifts from family members thereby raising alimony and child support payments?  According to Florida law, it depends.

SupportIn Oluwek v. Oluwek, 2 So.3d 1038 (Fla. 2ndDCA 2009), Jonathan Oluwek, the husband, appealed an amended final judgment of dissolution of his marriage to Linda Oluwek, the wife.  The trial court imputed $1500 per month contributed regularly by the husband’s parents to husband for alimony and child support.  The husband argued the trial court erroneously imputed the $1500 per month as income to the husband.  The record indicated his parents made regular monthly payments of $1500 over the last five years of marriage.

The Oluwek court held that as a general rule, the trial court may not consider financial assistance from family or friends in determining a party’s ability to pay alimony or child support.  However, there is an exception that allows the court to impute income based on gifts “if the gifts are continuing and ongoing, not sporadic, and where the evidence shows that the gifts will continue in the future.”  In Vorcheimer v. Vorcheimer, 780 So. 2d 1018 (Fla. 4thDCA 2001), the appellate court held that the trial court erred by imputing $1500 to the husband as income where there was no evidence that the payments would continue. The $1500 payments had been made on a monthly basis for twelve years, but the husband’s father testified at trial that he had stopped making the monthly payments and would not make them in the future.  The court distinguished that case from Ordini v. Ordini, 701 So.2d 663 (Fla. 4thDCA 1997), in which regular monthly payments from the husband’s parents continued through trial and the husband’s mother testified that she would continue to make them in the future.

alimony taxesThe Tax Cuts and Jobs Act “TCJA” has a definite effect on alimony payments.  Prior to the new law, alimony payments could be deducted by the payer for federal income tax purposes and recipients had to report the payments as taxable income.  Any divorces finalized before December 31, 2018 will continue under the old tax law.  Any divorces finalized after December 32, 2018 apply under the TCJA eliminates the deduction for alimony payments and recipients no longer have to include them as taxable income.  In addition, any modification of alimony payments after December 31, 2018 shall be affected by the TCJA if the modification specifically states that the TCJA applies; meaning if the TCJA is ordered applicable by the Court.

Pre-2019 divorce orders for alimony still qualify under the old federal income tax law for a deduction benefit without having to itemize if all requirements are met.  Requirements include: 1) a written document is required the alimony payment; 2) payment must be to or on behalf of a spouse or ex-spouse; 3) the divorce decree or separation document cannot state the payment is not alimony; 4) ex-spouses cannot live in the same household or file jointly; 5) a payment must be made in cash or by cash equivalent; 6) cannot be deemed to be child support; 7) the taxpayer’s social security number must be included on the tax return; 8) the obligation to make payments ceases upon the recipient’s death.  See IRS Tax Topic No. 452.

Depending on your situation, you need to speak with an experienced Jacksonville family law attorney now.  If you will be making alimony payments, it is in your best interest to get a divorce wrapped up before December 31, 2018 so payments will be deductible.  If you will be receiving payments, it is in your best interest to put off finalizing your divorce until next year, so the payments will be tax free to you.  Contact the Law Office of David M. Goldman, PLLC for a consultation.

You may be tired of receiving child support or alimony payments late or not at all, and you would like to be paid directly from the employer of your ex-spouse or child’s father/mother.  Florida Statutes 61.1301 provides that an income deduction order can be entered once there is an order of alimony or child support by the court.  The income deduction order must be issued by separate order.

There is a federally approved and required Income Withholding Order “IWO” that will allow you to garnish income for child support and alimony.  See 42 U.S.C. 666, Social Security Act.  Arrearage of child support can be withheld also and the employer/income withholder is given instructions on how much to withhold until full payment is made.

moneyThere are very clear rules about the IWO, and an IWO may be rejected and delay payment if not completed properly.  The employer must reject the IWO and return to the sender if the IWO instructs the employer/income withholder to send a payment to an entity other than a state disbursement unit, which is a centralized facility for collections and disbursement of child support payments.  Another reason the IWO must be rejected is if the form does not contain all the necessary information to comply with the withholding.  The IWO must include a dollar amount as the amount to withhold and must include a copy of the underlying order.  In addition, the correct Office of Management and Budget “OMB” approved form must be used or it will be rejected.

As a Jacksonville divorce lawyer, I have encountered my share of clients that are not too fond of the idea of paying alimony to a former spouse.  I suppose I understand.  Alimony considerations are controlled by Florida Statute 61.08, but in general will be based on one person’s need versus the other person’s ability to pay.   For many people, it’s not the money its self, but rather the idea of being forced to provide support that they would rather not provide after the relationship has ended.  Simply put, people are angry and are driven by emotions surrounding divorces, those emotions often conflict with what the court has ordered regarding support payments.  People will search for ways to protest as much as possible without running the risk of being held in contempt for not following a judge’s order.

151215_Allimony ChecksTake a look at the photo to the left. It shows a man and woman who were recently married.  Apparently, the photos are printed on checks that the man used to pay alimony to his ex-wife. Not all divorced couples hate each other, but it is clear to see that these checks were designed to take shots at the ex-wife every time she receives an alimony payment.  It makes for a good laugh on social media, but I wouldn’t recommend it under most circumstances.  As long as alimony is due, the court will have jurisdiction to enforce the support obligation. As long as the court retains jurisdiction, there are always things that the ex can do to complicate the former husband’s life.  Under Florida law, there is nothing wrong with what the husband has done here.   Although there are many many reasons not to antagonize and poke at an ex-wife, the law will allow this type of behavior.  Unless there is a provision in the divorce decree that can be used to attack these spiteful checks, the checks will be allowed.

My advice as a Jacksonville divorce lawyer is for the ex-husband not to poke the bear. For the ex-wife, it would be to cash the checks and enjoy the money. The ex-wife, however, under Florida law has the option to petition the court and ask that the payments go through the depository, rather than directly to her. It adds a middleman to the deal, but shuts down the ex-husband’s shenanigans.  At the Law Office of David M. Goldman, PLLC, our experienced divorce lawyers can help guide you through the divorce process and help protect your rights.  We also offer pretty awesome advice on what not to do in divorce case.  Call today for a free initial consultation.

Trusts have long been a tool used in asset protection and estate planning to protect property and income.  But  what if a person seeks to use a trust  as a shield to protect a trust beneficiary from making support payments in family law cases?  The answer is not necessarily straight forward, but depends on the circumstances and the terms of the trust.  However, Florida trust law makes it possible for a trust to be used to provide support to a trust beneficiary’s dependents.  This is  limited to child support or spousal support and is only considered when there are no other alternatives to receiving the support that is sought.  The person seeking to attach a trust’s distributions to a beneficiary must demonstrate to the court that certain factors are present that justify going after the trust.  A trust’s spendthrift provision will not defeat a garnishment for support of a dependent.

equalRecently, the 2nd District Court of Appeals, in Berlinger v. Casselberry, upheld a trial court’s order issuing a continuing writ of garnishment against any future disbursements from a trust for the ex-husband’s benefit after the ex-wife filed a motion for contempt and requested a writ of garnishment.  In this case, the ex-husband was ordered to pay a substantial amount of alimony per month.  The ex-husband stopped making the alimony payments, but lived a lavish lifestyle with his new wife.  The couple lived off a trust set up for the benefit of the ex-husband, who had attempted to hide the trust.  After the ex-wife discovered the trust, she requested the writ of garnishment, which the court granted.

The State of Florida holds spendthrift provisions in high regard and will respect them, generally.  However, the State’s policy as it relates to a person’s obligation to support his or her dependents is of higher interest to the State of Florida.  For more information on trusts or family law issues, contact the Law Office of David M. Goldman, PPLC.  Initial consultations are free.

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