Articles Posted in Premarital Agreements

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.

An uncontested divorce is a proceeding to return two married persons to the status of being single in which all of the details of the divorce are reached with an out of court agreement.  As a practicing family law attorney for more than 15 years, it is my opinion that overly optimistic litigants frequently find that an uncontested divorce may be more difficult to achieve than first thought.  Sometimes both spouses agree that a divorce is the correct thing to do in their circumstances.  If a couple contemplating a divorce can agree on all of the important issues then an uncontested divorce will typically benefit the family.  The critical issues that people spend the most effort fighting about are child custody, child support, spousal support, and property distribution.

Litigants sometimes find that dealing with the mechanics of settlement are challenging when they attempt to memorialize their intentions in writing.  The process of getting to a consented to outcome involves some negotiation in most cases.  A self-represented individual will benefit substantially by consulting with a qualified family law attorney prior to signing a marital settlement agreement or a consented to final judgment.  This author believes that people are much more likely to honor orders created by negotiation, as opposed to orders emanating from a contested final hearing before a judge.  A litigant that is being guided by qualified counsel is more likely to negotiate a favorable outcome over a Pro Se Litigant, since an understanding of the legal issues is necessary to negotiate knowledgeably.

Many of the issues that one has to deal with during a divorce are complex when dealing with custody and financial issues.  Parties that are able to amicably settle their divorce in writing typically have fewer post judgment problems.  Prior to negotiating a marital settlement agreement, it is important to consult with an experienced family law attorney to help draft the legal documents required to accurately reflect the agreement.

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). 

Florida requires parents who are divorcing or are subject to a paternity action to have a parenting plan in place.  A parenting plan can be agreed to or simply entered by the court.  However, once the plan is entered into the court as an order, it is enforceable through the court system.  Violations of parenting plans can be insignificant, or they can lead to great interference with the rights of a parent and a child.

In Florida, timesharing is taken into account in calculating child support for a parent that exercises at least twenty percent of the overnights with a child.  Florida’s child support guidelines specifically account for such.  However, not every parent takes advantage of all of the overnights that they are awarded.  Normally, you cannot retroactively adjust child support.  However, failure for a parent to exercise substantial timesharing can have a serious economic impact on that parent, as the Florida Statutes authorize retroactive adjustments.

A parent’s failure to regularly exercise the time-sharing schedule set forth in the parenting plan, a court-ordered time-sharing schedule, or a time-sharing arrangement exercised by agreement of the parties not caused by the other parent which resulted in the adjustment of the amount of child support pursuant to subparagraph (a)10. or paragraph (b) shall be deemed a substantial change of circumstances for purposes of modifying the child support award. A modification pursuant to this paragraph is retroactive to the date the noncustodial parent first failed to regularly exercise the court-ordered or agreed time-sharing schedule. F.S. 61.30(11)(C). 

Divorces in Florida typically split the parties’ assets and liabilities down the middle as much as possible.  Determining what is a marital asset or liability or a non-marital asset or liability can be key to whether an asset or liability will be considered in the calculations.  Before filing for divorce, you should consider the following items when thinking about equitable distribution:

  • Previous Inheritance
  • Marital Home

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.

contract agreementCouples in Jacksonville and the Duval County area may need asset protection options in the event of divorce to eliminate costly litigation. A prenuptial or postnuptial agreement or even irrevocable trusts are great options. However, it is important that an experienced Family Law attorney constructs and reviews these documents.

A prenuptial agreement is an agreement between prospective spouses made in contemplation of marriage and to be effective upon marriage. See Florida Statutes section 61.079(2)(a). A postnuptial agreement is an agreement between spouses who are already married that is effective immediately upon signing. Both agreements are signed with the understanding that they will determine asset and property distribution in the event of divorce, among other things.

Parties to a premarital agreement may contract with respect to the rights and obligations of each of the parties in any property of either or both of them whenever and wherever acquired or located; the right to buy, sell, use, transfer, exchange, abandon, lease, consume, expend, assign, create a security interest in, mortgage, encumber, dispose of, or otherwise manage and control property; the disposition of property upon separation, marital dissolution, death, or the occurrence of nonoccurrence of any other event; the establishment, modification, waiver or elimination of spousal support; the making of a will, trust, or other arrangement to carry out the provisions of the agreement; the ownership rights in and disposition of the death benefit from a life insurance policy; the choice of law governing the construction of the agreement; and any other matter, including their personal rights and obligations, not in violation of either the public policy of Florida or a law imposing a criminal penalty. See Florida Statutes section 61.079(4)(a)(1-8). In contemplation of a premarital agreement being signed, there must be a fair and reasonable disclosure of the property or financial obligations of the other party.

When the parties to a marriage believe that a marriage is over or “irretrievably broken”, there is no issue as to whether the divorce should take place.  Irretrievably broken means that there is no hope of fixing the marriage.  As long as one party to the marriage believes it is broken beyond repair, a dissolution of the marriage will ultimately happen.   A broken marriage, however, CAN be fixed by a divorce, it seems.  Well technically, the relationship is fixed, but the marriage will have  ended.  I recently came across an article about couples remarrying after divorce.  You can read the article, (“Why Do Divorced Couple Remarry” by clicking here.)  There are no available statistics that explain the exact number, but it does happen.  The article generally credits remarriage of divorced couples to the healing power of time apart.  People have the chance to forgive, to try new things or relationships, and also realize that the problems were not necessarily the people themselves—marriage is simply hard.  I personally know of a woman whose parents were married to each other on three separate occasions.

divorceA divorce does not have to go through completely before any benefit can be gained from filing for dissolution.   As a Jacksonville divorce lawyer, I have come across several cases where the filing of the divorce paperwork itself helps to save a marriage.  Mostly, it is the wife that will file for divorce and have it act as a huge wake-up call for the husband.  Although, I have seen it go both ways, however.  I imagine that the filing of the divorce petition shows the other spouse that there is a serious problem that needs addressing. Continue reading

Planning for the future in any given situation will produce a better outcome than not having a plan.  Marriage and divorce are no exception.  Having a plan is important for people of all ages, but people who marry later in life normally have more reason to plan properly.  Those entering into marriage later in life are normally more financially equipped than their younger counter parts and often have children already.  This is important, because leaving property behind for your children could be affected by  a subsequent marriage and/or divorce.  There are many planning documents that are helpful to have.  Two documents that will help make things  a bit simpler later down the line for married couples are: (1) a prenuptial (or premarital) agreement and (2)  a will.

prenuptialPrenuptial agreements can be used to lay out the understanding between couples on how things will go during the marriage, as well as what happens in the event of a divorce between the parties. Examples of topics to include would be how the couple will handle joint bills and other liabilities. A common method is for the parties to establish a joint checking account that each will contribute to for the purpose of paying household expenses.  All issues that may come about during a divorce proceeding can’t be addressed.  Things like child support and time-sharing (visitation) can’t be controlled completely by a prenuptial agreement, but it makes sense to have as many issues as possible ironed out.  Property  rights absolutely can be determined by a prenuptial agreement, and parties should consider having one in place. Continue reading

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