Month: March 2018

Turkish Delight

Another fault-based divorce ruling comes from Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, which issued a fatwa stating that if a man refers to his wife as either “mother” or “sister,” their marriage will be deemed divorced. What is no-fault divorce?

A Real Turkey

According to Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper, if a man tells his wife that he sees her as a mother or sister, the man will be considered divorced from his wife.

However, if they have not divorced before, they may come together with a new marriage,” it said.

If a man says those things or other phrases like “I divorce you”, “You are not my wife”, “Be free”, “Go off”, or “Go to your father’s house” to his wife with the intention to divorce, the divorce has taken place in terms of Islam, even if it is sent by SMS or by e-mail.

Previously, the Diyanet, the Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate, had issued a fatwa on divorce, stating that couples may get divorced via telephone call, fax, letter, text message or internet.

Turkey’s preeminent religious authority has a long track record of issuing other interesting fatwas. For example, in November, the Diyanet declared the digital currency bitcoin “inappropriate at this moment in time.”

Then it issued a fatwa on hair dye for men, followed by a prohibition on purchasing national lottery tickets. Several days later, it warned against “immoral music.”

Florida No Fault Divorce

I’ve written about no fault divorces before. Historically in Florida, in order to obtain a divorce in Florida, one spouse had to prove the existence of legal grounds such as adultery.

Proving fault often required additional expenses on behalf of the aggrieved party, only serving to make the divorce process more expensive and cumbersome than it already was.

In the years leading up to the enactment of “no-fault” divorce, courts often granted divorces on bases that were easier to prove, the most common being “mental cruelty.”

Over time, the “no-fault” movement expanded to other states, although interestingly it only reached the typically progressive state of New York in 2010.

The Triple Talaq Divorce

Islamic countries have been convulsing lately with the divorce concept of “triple talaq.” Turkey’s Diyanet issued a similar fatwa. According to Hurriyet:

Divorcing your spouse by saying ‘talaq’ three times via phone call, letter, SMS, internet and fax are as valid as saying it to their face. However, in this situation, the husband should not deny the divorce.

If a woman is divorced through written methods such as a text message or letter, she should ensure that the message was sent by her husband.”

The religious body, Diyanet, has no power under Turkish law to issue a divorce. Civil courts grant separations under the 1926 Turkish civil code law. However, Turkey has become increasingly religious over the past several years.

The institution serves the Prime Minister’s office, is responsible for the appointments of personnel at mosques, drafts centralized sermons read at all mosques, and issues fatwas.

Critics argue that the Diyanet is against the impartiality required of a secular state, and that it promotes only one understanding of Islam in Turkey and abroad.

The Hurriyet article is here.


Extracurriculars and Child Custody

A contentious issue in child custody cases is a child’s extracurricular activity. The decision may be easy when the sport is badminton, but litigation is not out of bounds when the activity involves football – especially in a big football state like Florida.

Tackling Extracurricular Decision Making

As the New York Times reports, there are always questions regarding whether the child will participate in extracurricular activities. The typical questions involve which activities, who pays the costs, and scheduling the activity so it doesn’t infringe on the other parents’ timesharing are easy enough to punt.

In shared parental responsibility cases, the issue of extracurricular activities can be very divisive – especially when choosing an injury-prone sport like skateboarding and football.

How do courts tackle the issue?

Extracurricular activities are closely related to decisions about education and schooling, and the parent with sole, or ultimate decision-making authority over education, makes the final decision concerning extracurricular activities as well.

But in a shared parental responsibility case, the decision can be easily fumbled.

Florida Shared Parental Responsibility

I’ve written about parental responsibility choices before. Generally, shared parental responsibility is a relationship ordered by a court in which both parents retain their full parental rights and responsibilities.

Under shared parental responsibility, parents are required to confer with each other and jointly make major decisions affecting the welfare of their child.

In Florida, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents when a marriage or a relationship ends. In fact, courts are instructed to order parents to share parental responsibility of a child unless it would be detrimental to the child.

Issues relating to a child’s extracurricular activities, including the decision to participate in dangerous sports, are major decisions affecting the welfare of a child.

When parents cannot agree, the dispute is resolved in court.

At the trial, the test applied is the best interests of the child. Determining the best interests of a child is no longer entirely subjective Instead, the decision is based on an evaluation of certain factors affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.

A Custody Touchdown?

In the decade since scientists began to link football to long-term brain damage, the debate over the future of the sport has moved from research laboratories to the halls of Congress, to locker rooms and parents’ kitchen tables.

The growing number of disputes over the long-term consequences of football has put family court judges in the awkward position of having to pick sides on a hotly debated issue.

In most states, such as Florida, family court judges are charged with ruling in the best interests of a child’s health. In the case of sports like hang gliding or rock climbing, the dangers may be self-evident.

But the science around the long-term cognitive and neurological damage caused by football is still emerging.

Judges who side with parents trying to prevent their sons from playing tackle football end up endorsing the view that the sport is too risky, a stance that might be unpopular with voters who elect them.

Judges who side with parents who want their son to play, on the other hand, risk being accused of not being prudent enough if the boy is injured.

The New York Times article is here.


The Engagement Ring

If the luck of the Irish holds, your engagement diamond may be yours forever. Diamonds, given to you after someone asks the question: “will you marry me?” with a “yes” to follow, are a contract. This is why so many of them end up in court property division cases.

The Engagement Ring Tradition

Until the 1930s, a woman jilted by her fiancé could sue for financial compensation for “damage” to her reputation under what was known as the “Breach of Promise to Marry” action.

As courts began to abolish such actions, diamond ring sales rose in response to a need for a symbol of financial commitment from the groom.

I’ve written about engagement rings before. Florida abolished the appropriately termed “heart balm statutes”. Heart balm statutes were laws allowing couples to sue each other to recover money for the alienation of affections and breaches of contract to marry.

As one court poetically noted:

[A] gift given by a man to a woman on condition that she embark on the sea of matrimony with him is no different from a gift based on the condition that the donee sail on any other sea. If, after receiving the provisional gift, the donee refuses to leave the harbor – if the anchor of contractual performance sticks in the sands of irresolution and procrastination – the gift must be restored to the donor. A fortiori would this be true when the donee not only refuses to sail with the donor, but, on the contrary, walks up the gangplank of another ship arm in arm with the donor’s rival?

Engagement Rings in Court

After an engagement ring is given, and if the couple doesn’t marry, in New York the law deems a broken engagement as no one’s fault. Accordingly, the ring should be given back to the giver, with few exceptions. Most states have adopted that approach.

This is true in Florida. Lawsuits to recover an engagement ring by disappointed donors usually are resolved by courts looking to see if the engagement was terminated by the donee or by mutual consent of the parties.

The rationale is that rings are given on the implied condition that a marriage ensue.

Once a marriage proposal is extended and accepted — once the promise is made — no matter what day of the year, that ring is no longer considered a gift. It’s a contract to enter into marriage.

Most states embraced the no-fault rule after the 1997 case of Heiman v. Parrish. There, the Kansas Supreme Court decided that no matter who broke the engagement, the ring should be given back to the giver if the parties don’t marry.

“Ordinarily, the ring should be returned to the donor, regardless of fault,” the court found.

But Montana hasn’t followed the rule. Montana classifies the ring as an unconditional gift. The recipient keeps it. California and Texas take a middle-of-the road approach: the recipient of the ring is expected to return it, unless the giver called off the engagement.

The general rule in Florida is that an engagement ring given before the marriage, becomes a non-marital gift if the marriage is completed. If so, the ring becomes the non-marital property of the Wife.

If the engagement ring is viewed by the court as a non-marital asset, it is not subject to equitable distribution in divorce proceedings, and the spouse keeps it as their own.

The New York Times article is here.


The 2018 Divorce Rush?

Experts predict a surge in divorce cases this year. Why is this year different from all other years? Because in all other years, alimony is deductible to the spouse paying alimony, and next year that deduction will be eliminated.

What’s Happening to Alimony?

Currently, there is a tax deduction for people paying alimony. The tax deduction can substantially reduce the cost of alimony payments. So, for people in some tax brackets, every dollar you pay in alimony to your former spouse really could only cost you a little more than 60 cents.

The alimony deduction has been in the tax code since 1942. But, because of the new tax law, people paying alimony may not be able to deduct their alimony payments, and anyone receiving alimony will no longer report it as income.

According to the ABA, lawyers are advising you divorce now, before the 76-year-old deduction for alimony payments is wiped out in 2019 under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

If you’re going to get a divorce, get it now. Potential divorcees have all of 2018 to use the alimony deduction as a bargaining chip in their negotiations with estranged spouses.

Divorce and Taxes

The new tax code changes will impact your divorce, but it isn’t the only tax which causes people to make the decision to divorce. I’ve written about the area of divorce and taxes before.

For example, the 2012 American Taxpayer Relief Act raised taxes on couples making more than $450,000, and individuals making more than $400,000. As it turns out, some couples found out they could save over $25,000 a year if they divorced.

The New Tax Law

Many divorce lawyers criticize the new law to end the alimony deduction, saying it will make divorces worse.

People won’t be willing to pay as much in alimony, which will disproportionately hurt women who tend to earn less and are more likely to be on the receiving end of alimony payments.

Conversely, the alimony deduction has also been criticized. For example, the government argues the deduction is a burden on the IRS because, if the alimony amounts ex-spouses report paying and receiving don’t match, it can force the agency to audit two people who may already be feuding.

Why it Matters

Spouses negotiating alimony payments may try to pay less when the change takes effect because there will be no tax savings.

In many cases, women are more likely to be hurt by the change as they negotiate divorce terms. U.S. Census Bureau statistics showing that 98 percent of the 243,000 people who received alimony payments last year were women.

The deduction is a big deal to couples negotiating their divorce because if someone who earns, say, $250,000 agrees to pay $4,000 per month in alimony, it really costs the person about $3,000 after taking the deduction into account.

Without the break, many people will agree to pay only what would have been their after-tax amount. It is feared that more couples will end up fighting in court because they won’t be able to agree on alimony.

2019 Deadline

The alimony deduction repeal doesn’t take effect immediately and won’t kick in until 2019. That is why lawyers are advising clients to file for divorce now.

However, meeting the 2019 deadline won’t be easy.

Some states have mandatory “cooling-off” periods, others states have residency requirements. So, you can’t just file for a divorce today, and expect that you’re going to be divorced tomorrow.

The ABA article is here.


Banning Child Marriage

Florida is stopping an embarrassing and ongoing family law problem: legal child marriages. There are more than 200,000 children married in the United States. Last week, a bill to ban the practice passed both houses of the Florida legislature, and has been converted into an act for the Governor to sign.

Florida’s Efforts to Ban Child Marriage

According to the Miami Herald, Florida is poised to put the country’s strictest ban on child marriage into law after a bill — with some narrow exceptions for 17-year-olds — was passed by state legislators Friday.

It is incredible to think that the marriage of children is technically legal in Florida.

Children aged 16- and 17-year-olds can marry with their parents’ consent, and even younger kids if there is a pregnancy.

But Senate Bill 140, which was passed by the House nearly unanimously, eliminates the pregnancy requirement and limits any marriage of minors to 17 years of age and only if they satisfy a series of requirements added by the Senate earlier in the week.

A bill to ban child marriages had been proposed for multiple years in the Legislature to close the loophole allowing minors to marry.

Florida Child Marriages

I’ve written about marriage and divorce before. Many people would be embarrassed to know that Florida actually allows child marriages. Previous efforts always failed, but this year was different.

Our statutes currently say that if anyone seeking a marriage license is under the age of 18, all that’s required is the written consent of the parents.

Even written consent isn’t required if the parent is deceased, or the child was previously married. The problem of child marriages is very concerning:

Between 70% and 80% of marriages involving individuals under age 18 end in divorce and getting married and later divorcing can more than double the likelihood of poverty.

Children are trapped, because they face many obstacles when they try to resist or escape marriages that adults forced into marriage don’t.

Unless a child is legally emancipated – given the rights of an adult – a child has very limited rights, leaving children trapped in a marriage with an adult.

This new Florida bill, if signed by the Governor, will finally end the status quo.

Sherry Johnson: Victim Turned Advocate

Lawmakers credited this year’s passage to six years of advocacy from Sherry Johnson, a child marriage victim who was raped, became pregnant, and was married to one of the men who assaulted her by age 11.

Johnson, who went on to have five more children in that marriage, said a ban on child marriage would have altered her future, even if it would not have prevented her abuse.

After she watched the House vote to send the legislation to the governor, advocate Sherry Johnson thanked bill sponsors Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, center, and Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami, outside the chamber doors.

Johnson said she was satisfied with the compromise, though she plans to advocate for similar legislation across the country — and possibly abroad.

My mission is for the world, for the children all over the world. It’s not just Florida. … It’s for the children everywhere.

The Miami Herald article is here.


Divorce Planning

A cold wind blows across the Northern Hemisphere the first few months of the new year, and relationships start to feel a bit of a chill. The latest Eurostat numbers – which are in line with American statistics – show that divorce filings increase at the start of the year in Europe and the U.S.

This is Your Euro Divorce

People in the UK have reportedly dubbed the first working Monday in January “Divorce Day” in recognition of an apparent spike in couples considering dissolving their marriages.

More than 40,500 people in the U.K. are expected to search “divorce” online in January – a rate that is nearly 25 percent higher than the usual traffic generated by the term.

Florida Divorce Statistics

I have written about the phenomenon of divorce filings at the beginning of the year before.

Although Florida was a British colony, that may not explain why the beginning of the year was the most popular time to file for a divorce here in Florida too.

The first few months of the year are known for divorce filings, and January is nicknamed the “Divorce Month” in Florida.

Researchers recently did an analysis of all American divorce filings and found that there is a spike in divorces in January.

The spike in divorce filings is followed by a peak in late March.

What’s happening at the beginning of the new year that causes people to both marry and divorce?

According to the report:

“The holidays are often a tricky time for couples whose relationships have been under pressure for a while.

Add in the intense time spent together, financial pressure, extended family critiques and unrealistic expectations (nothing worse than happy people’s Facebook posts) – and it can spell disaster for some relationships.

Back in Europe

Amazingly, the same statistics hold true of our European cousins.

Below are the European countries with the Highest crude divorce rates – the ratio of the number of divorces during the year to the average population that year per 1,000 persons – according to Eurostat.



Divorce Rank

Divorce Rate

Lithuania 1 3.2
Denmark 2 2.9
Estonia 3 (tie) 2.6
Latvia 3 (tie) 2.6
Czech Republic 5 (tie) 2.5
Finland 5 (tie) 2.5
Sweden 5 (tie) 2.5


The U.S News and World Report article is here.


The Oscar Curse: Divorce

The Post about the world being unfair to women is no Phantom Thread. Even when women succeed, they face challenges men don’t – and may want to Get Out. Winning the Oscar for Best Actress, for example, is a major accomplishment, but can also be the Darkest Hour if winning the Oscar means divorce.

The Shape of Divorce

In recent years, anecdotal evidence suggesting that winning an Academy Award — the “Oscar” — for Best Actress puts a woman’s marriage at risk for divorce.

The phenomenon has prompted the media to speculate about the existence of an “Oscar curse” – that an actress’ husband will leave her once she’s won an Academy Award.

Is there any scientific evidence for the Oscar Curse?

After looking at the 751 nominees in the best actor and actress categories of the Academy Awards from 1936 through 2010, researchers concluded that Best Actress winners have a 63% chance of their marriages ending sooner than non-winners.

However, the Best Actor winners do not experience any increase in the risk of divorce after an Oscar. Is there any truth to this Oscar Curse?

According to a study reported in an article in the New York Times, the old social norms for marriages were that a husband’s income and job status was higher than his wife’s.

New studies are showing that men may even be avoiding women whose intelligence and ambition exceeds their own.

Studies are also showing that violating the old social norm about marriage can cause strains in a marriage. The result is that a wife’s high income has been linked to an increased risk of divorce at all levels of the husband’s income, but especially when the wife’s income exceeds her husband’s.

A Marriage’s Dunkirk

I’ve written about the causes of divorce before. There are many reasons clients file for divorce. The top reasons I hear repeatedly include: difficult in-laws, financial problems, constant separation due to travel, and bad communication habits.

I recently read a reason I hadn’t come across before: a church caused it! A Florida husband sued his church for encouraging his wife to leave him, even helping her move out of their marital home after 28 years of marriage.

“The defendant’s pastor made multiple visits to Plaintiff and his wife’s residence to play Wii games with them not at the invitation of the Plaintiff”

The husband says his wife paid 60 percent of the household bills, and that he has struggled financially since she left him. He is suing the church for $180,000, in addition to $10 million in punitive damages.

Not exactly the Oscar Curse, but the Florida case is another example of old marital norms putting a strain on a long-term marriage.

Oscar Party?

One study in the New York Times article found that Oscar wins are associated with a greater risk of divorce for Best Actresses. Interestingly, the correlation with divorce did not extend to winners for Best Actors.

The study shows an asymmetric effect of winning an Oscar for best actress but not best actor. What does that outcome prove though?

Some say it means women face an increased risk of divorce which may be due to their husbands’ discomfort with their wives’ fame and success.

There’s another possibility. Others argue that after a major success in fame and money, a wife may grow dissatisfied with her marriage. Maybe the wife has outgrown the marriage, or has the confidence and to move away from a bad relationship.

The New York Times article is here.


Spouses and Spies

Can you spy on your spouse? GPS trackers, spyware, key logger programs, and hidden cameras are changing divorce, making it easy to become an amateur spy, and making it even easier to land you in trouble.

The CIA Home Kit

As NPR reports, couples are turning to the latest technology to spy on each other as their marriages fall apart.

New digital spy tools are cheap and easy to use — from something as simple as the Find My iPhone feature to spyware that can be installed in a spouse’s computer, phone, or even a car.

Welcome to divorce in the 21st century — how much privacy you’re entitled to is an open question. Cases involving domestic spying are not unique, and are becoming more common as the technology gets cheaper and easier to use.

Digital spying is changing divorce as we know it.

The tools are abundant. Clients use it in an effort to stay in control after a separation or to gather evidence of extra-marital affairs or drug abuse. But the laws can be murky.


There may be problems with becoming your own James Bond type spy. I’ve written about domestic violence issues before. Many people are unfamiliar with cyberstalking statutes in Florida, and that cyberstalking is grounds for an injunction.

In Florida, cyberstalking is also a crime, and it means conduct to communicate, or to cause to be communicated, words, images, or language by or through the use of electronic mail or electronic communication, directed at a specific person, causing substantial emotional distress to that person and serving no legitimate purpose.

Cyberstalking can involve communications over the Internet like: email, instant messages, text messaging, blogging, website or online forum postings, and social media posts.

Florida also has an aggravated cyberstalking law for protection against people who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person and makes a credible threat to that person commits the offense of aggravated stalking.


Partners in breakups sometimes install spyware on computers or phones in order to spy on their soon-to-be ex. Once installed, people can see every incoming and outgoing message from the target’s phone, Web searches, even keystrokes and passwords.

The legality of tracking technology is messy. For example, parents can put spyware on a child’s phone or a home computer. But, putting it on a spouse’s or a partner’s computer or iPhone without consent is generally illegal.

Florida has a strong Constitutional right to privacy. Florida enacted laws to ensure each party to a conversation has an expectation of privacy from interception by another party to the conversation.

Be careful about becoming your own spy. Florida has made it illegal for a person to intercept wire, oral, or electronic communications. And, trial courts can and do exclude from evidence electronic communications illegally intercepted.

Back at Langley

As the NPR article reports, the messages from an ex-husband to his ex-wife can be unsettling:

“I know all of the ways you’ve described me to your friend.”

Unfortunately, the ex-wife went to an Apple store, but didn’t look for the spyware; instead they got her a brand-new phone. That meant that the evidence went along with the phone.

In 2012, the last time the Justice Department attempted to quantify stalking, it estimated that 1.5% of all adults in the U.S. were victims.

That figure more than doubled — to 3.3 percent — for people who were divorced or separated.

The NPR article is here.


Dividing the Mommy Makeover: Cosmetic Surgery and Divorce

Property Division in divorce can mean complex valuations are brought to court for a decision . . . but not always. Sometimes, breast augmentation surgery becomes a divisive issue. Recently, a state Supreme Court heard such a case. How are breasts equitably distributed?

Mommy Makeovers

Some call it “revenge plastic surgery”. Others call it the “Mommy Makeover”. There has been a long-term trend for women who have had breast augmentation surgery to separate and divorce, as compared to other women. There are now newer trends we’re seeing.

Men are also getting Daddy Makeovers. Men are enlarging their breasts, getting tummy tucks, and liposuction for body contouring for a more attractive physique.

Men and women are increasingly getting their physical enhancements done before filing for divorce. The new trend is for people considering divorce to plan for their divorce financially, emotionally and . . . physically!

The Great Divide

Erik Isaacson and Traci Isaacson were married in 1993, and have three children together. After filing for their divorce, they had to put together a schedule of assets and liabilities for the trial court to divide.

Erik put together his marital property list, and in it he included Traci’s breast implants, and valued the breast implants at $5,500. Traci listed them in her list, but assigned them no value.

The trial judge was not amused:

“[Breast implants are] the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen listed on a property and debt listing, next to the cat litter and cat box I had in my very first divorce, is going to be stricken.”

Hoping to avoid a painful distribution, the judge ruled on the cosmetic surgery:

I don’t know how you would expect me to award breast implants. Do you want me to have them cut out and given to Mr. Isaacson. . .? It’s absolutely nonsense. Do not waste the Court’s time with stuff like this.”

Erik appealed, arguing the trial judge improperly excluded the value of breast implants from the marital estate because it allowed Traci to spend marital funds on property she got to keep after the divorce.

Florida Property Division

I’ve written about property division before. Property division, or equitable distribution as it is called in Florida, is governed by statute and case law, but cosmetic surgery has not specifically been dealt with in Florida.

Generally, courts set apart to each spouse their non-marital assets and debts, and then distribute the marital assets and debts between the parties.

Marital assets and liabilities include, in part, assets acquired and liabilities incurred during the marriage, individually by either spouse or jointly by them.

In dividing the marital assets and debts though, the court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal.

One reason for an unequal distribution is the intentional dissipation, waste, depletion, or destruction of marital assets.

Cosmetic surgery, and related medical bills, certainly fall into the category of marital liabilities. When a court has to determine which spouse pays for cosmetic surgery and related medical bills, a court may want to consider whether the procedure is medically necessary, or cosmetic, or a dissipation of assets.


Erik and Traci took their breast case to the North Dakota Supreme Court. Citing cases from Hawaii, Delaware and Kentucky, Erik asked the Supreme Court to hold Traci’s breasts were a marital asset, the value of which are subject to an equal division of the marital estate.

During oral argument, one justice commented:

“Do we have any lines to be drawn? Is dental work a marital asset? Is a hip replacement a marital asset?”

In the end, the high court found that Erik never argued that the expenditure of funds to obtain the breast implants was a dissipation of marital assets:

nor did he present the district court with any reason why breast implants should be considered a marital asset.

The Supreme Court found the trial judge did not err in excluding the breast implants as a marital asset, and Traci was saved from a very painful property division.

Was Isaacson v. Isaacson the most important decision in matrimonial law? Probably not. But, equitable distribution does raise a number of interesting questions.

Especially when it comes to the increasing trend to undergo cosmetic surgery as a part of divorce planning.

The North Dakota Supreme Court decision is here.