Articles Posted in Marriage

There may be some negative stereotypes that are associated with Prenuptial Agreements.  Typically, neither party wants to detract from the blissful atmosphere typical prior to a wedding.  However, a Prenuptial Agreement can also help preserve a marriage.  This is because there is certainty as to how things will terminate should the marriage not last.

The thought alone of creating a prenuptial agreement can cast a negative light upon a wedding.  To some, the contemplation of a prenuptial places a negative light upon wedding preparations and the future of the relationship.  Having to plan for divorce is an admission that a relationship is not permanent.  That said, it is far better to deal with the details of how a relationship is going to end (should it end) while a couple is reasonable and loving compared with being negatively affected by the hostilities and uncertainties of divorce.

In Florida, there are several types of alimony that courts may consider.  There are factors that affect the amount of alimony that can be provided for such as, length of a marriage, the equality of earning ability between the spouses, and the assets that a court must divide.  Florida law creates a rebuttable presumption against permanent alimony when a marriage is 7 years or less, which under the Florida Statutes is defined as a short term marriage.  However, there is a rebuttable presumption for permanent alimony awards in marriages that are long term (greater than 17 years).  Moderate term marriages are defined as between 7 and 17 years and no presumption exists.

It is important to know your rights following a divorce.  The final judgment of dissolution and the parenting plan determine the legal playing field for the future.  However, most issues are dynamic.  Children get older and their schools change and sometimes their relationship with parents change.  Incomes change, which can directly impact child support and people sometimes desire to relocate where child custody can be an issue.  There are a myriad of circumstances that should be re-evaluated following divorce. 

In Florida, the standard used to file an action to modify a final judgment is that a substantial change in circumstances occurred that was not anticipated at the time of entry of the final judgment.  It does not always make practical sense to file an action to modify a final judgment just because a party can do so.  The relationship that a party has with a former spouse is important, especially where children are involved.  Every time a party considers filing a supplemental petition (this is the instrument filed requesting modification of a final judgment), one should consider how such will impact their relationship with their former spouse and other legal consequences.  I frequently have parties coming to me that wish to file for a modification.  I typically find that they have only evaluated a part of the effect of seeking a modification.  For this reason, it is imperative that one review the ramifications of an action for modification with an experienced family law attorney.

Although a divorce is designed to deal with all of the legal issues concerning dissolution, the reality is that there are sometimes issues that are left unresolved.  On occasion there are assets that neither party put on their financial affidavits that require addressing post dissolution.  One example of such an issue involved a divorce of a long time married couple in which neither party included the child’s prepaid college fund account on their financial affidavit.  The fund was cashed out by the Father/Former Husband after the divorce without permission from the court or the Mother/Former Wife.  Since the asset was not listed on either party’s financial affidavit, the judge considered the asset marital property and ordered the Former Husband to pay back one half of the funds post dissolution.

For some, child support is an ongoing obligation that holds no light at the end of a long tunnel that can extend over 18 years.  Every situation is different and the answer as to when child support will end depends on your individual situation.  An experienced North Florida Family Law Attorney can review your circumstances and help you obtain the best result for you under the law.  

The answer to when child support ends is far from a black and white question in Florida.  Conceptually, child support is the right of each child.  Therefore, courts are reluctant to enter an order that does not provide for child support.  As a practicing Family Law Attorney, I have encountered many individuals that believe that parents can simply agree that child support will not be provided for in a final judgment of dissolution or paternity.  In Florida, a statutory guideline exists to determine what is presumptively reasonable for a parent to pay for child support.  The court can depart from the statutory amount by up to 5%, but there must be specific findings of fact enumerated in the order to justify any departure beyond the 5%, up or down.  

Under current law, when two or more children are provided for in a support order, that order must include provisions detailing when the support obligation terminates for each child.  There should be a modification of the income deduction order to reflect the changes.  There are circumstances that allow child support to continue past the age of 18.  If a child is still in high school at age 18 with a reasonable chance of graduating before age 19, child support may continue through graduation.  Where a child graduates high school prior to his or her 19th birthday, support ends at age 18.  If a child becoming an adult has a disability that would result in the child continuing to be a dependent, child support could continue indefinitely.  There are other less conventional reasons that child support might end, the death of a child, the emancipation of a child, or a situation where a child is earning enough money that no support is required (this would be a rare occasion, but there are numerous child stars that have earned more than their parents).  Under Florida Law, the only circumstance where one would be obligated to support a healthy adult child beyond the age of 19, would be where an Obligor agrees to such a duty in a contract (i.e. marital settlement agreement). 

There are cases where a non-custodial parent is unemployed and has little or no income.  Even a person with little or no income can still have an obligation to pay child support.  This is because a parent’s child support obligation can be calculated based upon his or her imputed income, as opposed to actual income.  Imputed income is income that the court determines an individual should be making with a reasonable effort.

When child support is calculated a number of factors are used to determine each party’s obligation.  The parents’ income, the number of children, and insurance expenses are the major elements in determining one’s obligation.   It is not infrequent that a parent will manipulate the system in an attempt to lower his or her income which is aimed at reducing that parent’s child support obligation.  This is accomplished in a number of ways.  People that own their own business have found numerous ways to receive what would otherwise be income through creative accounting.  One way that the court system counter’s this is through the use of imputed income.  Sometimes this involves imputing minimum wage.  Other times, it is much more complicated and a vocational evaluator may be used.  

Although unemployment can no doubt affect one’s income adversely, it may not necessarily affect his or her child support obligation.  The courts do not always use imputed income to determine one’s child support obligation.  Most situations where it is used involve a parent that is unemployed or underemployed voluntarily.  In my practice, I have primarily seen imputed income used where a parent is unemployed and the court will impute minimum wage.  There are situations in which much higher income has been attempted to be imputed.  In one divorce case with no children that I handled, a Wife of an attorney, requested a vocational evaluation to determine the attorney’s true earning capabilities.  A court will usually inquire as to why a parent is unemployed or underemployed and whether or not there is justification for it.  A case in which unemployment is caused by an accidental injury would be a likely example of one that may be justifiable.  A layoff or company downsizing could also account for why an Obligor is unemployed.  Trying to prove that someone is underemployed can be difficult and expensive.  One has to prove that there is work available and that the Obligor turned it down.  Most of the cases I have handled involving the Dept. of Revenue are examples of situations where it is impractical or not economically feasible for the Dept. of Revenue to pay to have a vocational evaluation.  One example of a recent case I came across where there is little doubt that a father has a legitimate excuse (arguably) for not working is where a father must stay home to care for a young child with Cerebral Palsy. 

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.

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).

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.

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.

As a Jacksonville divorce attorney, I understand that attorney fees in divorce cases is an issue that comes up in every case. Whether each person will pay his or her own attorney fees, or whether the other side will be forced to contribute must be decided in every case. This can be done by agreement or a judge will decide.  Payment of attorney fees in divorces cases is primarily controlled by Florida Statute 61.16.   F.S. 61.16 in its simplest form bases attorney fees on one person’s need and the other person’s ability to pay. The court has the ability to assess fees on a temporary basis, at the end of the case, and even on to an appeal.

attorney feesThe purpose behind F.S. 61.16 in granting attorney fees in some situations, is to level the playing field. The courts would rather family law cases be resolved on the merits of the case rather than based on who has the most money to fight. There are circumstances where a court can order attorney fees based on other considerations that go past ability to pay. For example, the inequitable conduct doctrine can be used to punish an individual who as acted in bad faith throughout the case. Simply refusing to settle a case by itself cannot be considered egregious conduct or bad faith. In cases where one person purposefully frustrates the legal process throughout the case, or intentionally goes against a court’s prior ruling, the inequitable conduct doctrine can be used. Appellate courts have ruled that it should be reserved for the most egregious of cases.

Recently, in the case of Myrick v. Myrick, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals reversed a judge’s ruling that granted nearly a six-figure attorney fee award to the former husband. The former wife refused to settle the case and apparently gave the former husband a hard time in certain aspects of the case. The second DCA stated that her conduct was not enough to justify the award of attorney fees.

Florida divorce rates are declining, while marriage rates are increasing, according to a recent article by WCTV.  This has been the case for the past year, according to a Department of Health report.  Jacksonville divorce lawyers are familiar with the fact that divorces are tough.  It is a wonderful thing for the numbers to decrease, even if only by a small amount.  Divorces cases are emotionally taxing on families.  Divorces are also financially harmful to families.

jacksonville divorceIn Florida, the divorce process is a simple one.  It may not always be easy to actually go through it, but the concept is simple.  If one person out of the couple believes that the marriage is broken, then there is grounds for a divorce.  Some other states require a bit more.  This could be one of the reasons why Florida’s divorce rate is slightly higher than the national average.

The major issues that come up in divorce cases are (1) child custody and visitation, referred to as parental responsibility and time-sharing; (2) child support; (3) alimony or spousal support; and (4) the division of assets and liabilities.  At the Law Office of David M. Goldman, PPLC, we have experienced Jacksonville divorce lawyers that can help you navigate through the simple, but stressful process of divorce in Florida.  Call us today for a free consultation.  Our experienced Jacksonville divorce lawyers can help you understand your rights and obligations regarding your divorce.  As much as we wish you a long healthy marriage, we realize that things happen and plans change.  Let our divorce lawyers get you on the right track.  Call today.

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