Month: March 2013

Enforcing Religious Marriage Contracts: How to Get a Get

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Agreements on Wednesday, March 27, 2013.

Divorce can be tricky when the divorcing couple is religious. Religious issues have arisen for clients of all faiths. This is especially true during religious holidays like Passover/Easter, and usually deal with decisions over holiday timesharing and religious upbringing.

However, different religions can have unique issues. For instance, Muslim clients sometimes have had disputes over the interpretation and enforcement of Mahr agreements – a religious prenuptial agreement.

For Jewish clients, a frequent problem is the “chained wife” or agunah. In Judaism, for a divorce to be effective, Jewish law requires that a man grant his wife a get. An agunah, or chained wife, is legally divorced in Florida, but the ex-husband refuses to sign a get.

There has historically been an imbalance of power, giving men the upper hand when religious couples negotiate child custody, division of assets and other issues. In some cases, wives and their families have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for their husband to grant them a get.

Recently, a Connecticut trial court affirmed the constitutionality of the Modern Orthodox prenuptial agreement created by Beth Din of America aimed at protecting chained wives.

The Jewish Daily Forward reports that Rachel Light, a former wife, entered into a prenuptial agreement which had a ‘damages for delay’ clause requiring the husband to pay roughly $100 per day for every day he refused to sign a get. Ms. Light may possibly claim damages of more tha $100,000 from her ex-husband because he refused to sign a get.

Susan Aranoff, director of the advocacy group Agunah International, called the decision a ‘breakthrough for women,’ saying, “The unanswered question with regard to the prenup was always will it be enforceable in court. Now that is has been enforced husbands know there is a cost for withholding a get.”

Last July Rachel sued arguing that while she and Eben had separated years earlier, Eben refused to grant her a get. Rachel asked the court to enforce the provision in the prenup in which Eben agreed to pay $100, plus adjusted inflation, for every day he refused to grant the get. Eben argued that the prenup was a religious matter, and as such, it was unconstitutional for a secular court to enforce the document.

In his opinion, the judge found that enforcing the prenup was no different from enforcing a secular contract. He cited several cases, including Odatalla v. Odatalla, where a New Jersey court enforced an Islamic mahr agreement, and Avitzur v. Avitzur, which ruled that it was constitutional for a secular court to enforce a ketubah, or Jewish marriage contract.

Gay Marriage, Divorce, and Star Wars

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Divorce on Friday, March 22, 2013.

There is a phantom menace in Florida. Couples who want to divorce may not have solemnized their vows properly. Florida strictly regulates who can solemnize a marriage. The list includes: ordained clergy, judicial officers, clerks of court and notaries public.

If your marriage was not legally solemnized, you may only be eligible for legal annulment; you would not be able to file for divorce, and you may not plead for alimony or equitable distribution in your legal petition.

In Scotland there is a new hope. The Scots are holding public consultation on the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill, which would legalize gay marriage, and grant official recognition to weddings performed by Jedi Knights. In Scotland, we are literally witnessing the return of the Jedi:

The Force is strong with the Jedi in Scotland. A bill under consideration in Scotland would grant those who have literally made “Star Wars” a religion the power to perform marriage ceremonies.

And while it may sound like a joke to most, the Jedi religion is quite popular in some parts of Europe. In England, it is the second-most popular “alternative religion,” with more than 175,000 people listing themselves as Jedi in the 2012 nationwide census.

“Our current consultation covers not only the introduction of same-sex marriage but also the detail of important protections in relation to religious bodies and celebrants, freedom of speech and education,” a Scottish government spokeswoman said.

“At the moment, marriage ceremonies by bodies such as humanists have been classed as religious, even though the beliefs of such organizations are nonreligious….”

The Scottish government plans to hold a public consultation on the bill and, of course, not all traditionally religious groups are happy about creating a new category for ceremonies that are by their very nature, arguably, a religious practice.

“There are loads of people in a diverse society like this for whom belief can mean virtually anything-the Flat Earth Society and Jedi Knights Society-who knows?” the Rev. Iver Martin told the BBC.

For their part, the Jedi say the very nature of their beliefs would prevent them from tarnishing any other religious institutions.

Is there a problem with allowing light saber wielding Jedi to solemnize matrimony in Florida? Legalization of Jedi weddings in Scotland is part of a larger bill designed to legalize gay marriage. The attack of Jedi weddings could bolster claims from gay marriage opponents who could argue that legalizing gay marriage will lead us down a slippery slope. After all, if Jedi marriages become legal, how can we deny matrimony to others without risking a Clone War?

Florida Alimony Reform

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Alimony on Wednesday, March 20, 2013.

alimony is up for debate again in Florida. This year though, the reforms are HUGE. The Florida Senate Bill is 718 and the Florida House bill is 231, and they are being debated in Tallahassee right now. You can read the Senate bill here. Some of the items in the new bills which are creating a stir are:

Factors for awarding alimony

  • The bill deletes the standard of living enjoyed during a marriage factor.
  • There would be a new presumption that both parties will have a reduced standard of living.
  • Courts must impute income to an unemployed spouse.

Amends Presumptions

  • The bill adds 3 years to each category of marriage (short, moderate and long).
  • There would be a presumption against alimony for short-term marriages.

Amends Alimony Types

  • Permanent periodic alimony is eliminated.
  • Alimony types would be prioritized, so that bridge-the-gap is considered first, then rehabilitative, lastly, durational alimony.
  • A court couldn’t award alimony for more than half the length of the marriage without clear and convincing evidence.
  • The bill limits the cases in which a court could award combinations of alimony.

Modifies Alimony Modifications

  • The retirement of the paying spouse would become a substantial change in circumstances.
  • Alimony would automatically terminate at normal retirement age.
  • Alimony must be reduced or terminated if the payee spouse is in a supportive relationship.
  • The new law would apply to all orders entered before the bill became law, so the bill itself would be grounds for modifying or terminating alimony.


  • The bill would create a presumption in favor of equal time-sharing.

While some people support the Bills, some people hate it. The Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, for instance, is voicing strong opposition to this legislation, and pointing out some little-understood facts about alimony.

  • Florida courts do not routinely award permanent alimony.
  • Florida courts can ONLY award permanent alimony after making findings of fact that no other form of alimony is fair and reasonable.
  • Permanent alimony awards are almost always in long-term marriages.
  • Permanent alimony is always modifiable.
  • Florida courts cannot order permanent non-modifiable alimony.

Stay tuned.

How To Void a Prenuptial Agreement

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Agreements on Wednesday, March 13, 2013.

Having a prenuptial agreement shoved under your nose days before your wedding can be frightening. It also can raise issues many people don’t want to face: things like finances and the possibility of divorce.

Because of Florida’s policy of enforcing agreements, prenups can be difficult to void – but not impossible.

In Long Island, Elizabeth Petrakis felt forced by her future Husband to sign her prenup 4 days before her 1998 wedding to millionaire Peter Petrakis.

According to Elizabeth, her future Husband promised to rip up their agreement once they had children. But after having twin sons and a daughter, the prenup stayed intact.

A trial court in New York voided the prenup on the grounds of “fraud in the inducement” and recently an appellate court approved of that ruling – recognizing that the Husband misled the Wife in the contract, and finding his “credibility to be suspect.” As her attorney said:

“You can enter into prenups, but you shouldn’t when you’re marginalizing your spouse or being too greedy.” “The argument was helped by inequality of the prenuptial agreement.”

Another attorney further explained the court’s decision:

“Many couples discuss the terms of their prenups and say they will do or say things in the future that are not memorialized in writing,” she said. “However, this fraudulent inducement to buy a house put the marital home in joint name and make other financial incentives after the parties wed appeared to sway the appellate panel who agreed to set aside the prenuptial agreement based on fraud.”

Florida has both case law and a statute to help lawyers, judges and the parties determine if a prenuptial agreement is enforceable. Florida courts must consider things such as fraud, duress, coercion, in addition to the unfairness of the agreement, and whether there was any financial disclosure.

Introducing the 3 Parent Birth Certificate

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Domestic Partnerships on Tuesday, March 5, 2013.

Florida child custody law relating to homosexuality is a work in progress. For example, Florida law restricts the issuance of birth certificates, and expressly states that no person may adopt if that person is a homosexual. However, the ban on homosexual adoptions has been held to violate the equal protection provision of the Florida Constitution.

In re: Gill, 45 So. 3rd 79 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010), declared Florida Statute §63.042(3) unconstitutional, and granted the adoption of foster children to a gay foster parent. The court ruled there was no rational relationship between the statutory ban and the best interests of children.

“Under Florida law, homosexual persons are allowed to serve as foster parents or guardians, but are barred from being considered for adoptive parents. All other persons are eligible to be considered case-by-case to be adoptive parents, but not homosexual persons – even where, as here, the adoptive parent is a fit parent and the adoption is in the best interest of the children.”

Gill overturned the long-standing statutory ban on gay adoption, and opened the legal doors for all qualified gay persons, whether previous adoptive parents or not.

With the law as it is, it is notable that Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Antonio Marin approved the adoption of a 22-month-old baby girl that will list three people as parents on her birth certificate: a married lesbian couple and a gay man. Judge Marin’s order ended a two-year paternity fight between the couple and a friend of the women who donated his sperm, but wanted to play a role in the child’s life. You can read more about the decision here.

Judge Marin’s order means the child’s birth certificate will include a biological father and both women as parents, and the two women will have sole parental rights. While the father will be allowed to visit the child, he is not expected to provide any child support.

Four Things Guaranteed to Kill a Marriage

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Divorce on Friday, March 1, 2013.

Predicting who gets divorce is tough. It’s been said that John Gottman can listen to a couple for 5 minutes and determine with 91% accuracy whether they’ll divorce.

Gottman has researched marriage for over 40 years, and couples that attend his workshops have half the relapse rate that standard therapy provides. I just ordered his book: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

At the core of Gottman’s research are “The Four Horsemen”, the four indicators a divorce is on its way:

1. Criticism – Complaints are fine. Criticism though, attacks the person, not their behavior. (Husband didn’t take out the garbage because he’s a bad person, not because he forgot.)

2. Contempt – “…name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. In whatever form contempt – the worst of the four horsemen – conveys disgust. How can you resolve a problem when your partner thinks you’re disgusted with him.

3. Defensiveness – Defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. and automatically escalates the conflict: ‘The problem isn’t with me, it’s with you.’

4. Stonewalling – Tuning out doesn’t just remove the person from the conflict, it removes them emotionally from the relationship.

Interestingly, Gottman claims most arguments in a marriage cannot be resolved. Couples can spend years trying to change each other’s mind, but it can’t be done. Instead of arguing, he suggests accepting each another as-is:

Psychologist Dan Wile said it best in his book After the Honeymoon: “When choosing a long-term partner . . . you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty or fifty years.

The book also has few interesting statistics:

  • “…an unhappy marriage can increase your chances of getting sick by roughly 35% and even shorten your life by an average of 4 years.”
  • “96% of the time you can predict the outcome of a conversation based on the first three minutes of the fifteen minute interaction…”
  • “I’ve found 94 percent of the time that couples who put a positive spin on their marriage’s history are likely to have a happy future as well. When happy memories are distorted, it’s a sign that the marriage needs help.”

His book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work is available at Amazon (No, I don’t get a cut).