Month: August 2018

Winning Child Support Modification

If ‘money talks’, actor Charlie Sheen is talking a lot about how he can no longer afford child support after being “blacklisted” in Hollywood, according to court documents obtained by People and Us Weekly. What would the entertainer have to prove to get a child support modification in Florida?

child support modification

Defeat is not an option

The “Two and a Half Men” star, 52, filed requests to modify his child support payments to ex-wives Denise Richards and Brooke Mueller, the news sites report.

Sheen shares twin sons, 9, with Mueller, to whom he was married between 2008 and 2011; and daughters 14, 13, with Richards. That marriage lasted from 2002 to 2006.

Florida Child Support

I’ve written about child support issues before. For famous actors such as Sheen, and other high-income parents, the child support guidelines can award support far exceeding any child’s needs.

Because of this problem, the guidelines expressly provide the amounts can be adjusted upward or downward. Florida allows deviations by up to 5 percent after considering relevant factors. And the statute authorizes deviations by more than 5 percent, pursuant to a list of enumerated factors.

Not on Wall Street Anymore

Sheen’s case is ironic: the famous and flamboyant actor – surrounded by “goddesses”, infused with “tiger blood”, and bragging about “winning”, claims he can’t afford his child support payments.

If Sheen is asking for a modification of his child support, he would have to prove a substantial change in circumstances, the change was not contemplated at the time of final judgment, and the change is sufficient, material, involuntary, and permanent in nature.

Courts will also want to know whether Sheen is voluntarily reducing his income by failing to use enough effort to find work commensurate with his acting abilities.

There’s also the added problem of his flaunting his wealth. Media reports on Sheen have always shown him flaunting an extravagant hedonistic lifestyle.

“I’m bi-winning. I win here, I win there!”

The USA Today documents also reportedly reveal Sheen’s reasoning behind his “dire financial crisis” with less than $10 million to his name.

“I have been unable to find steady work, and have been blacklisted from many aspects of the entertainment industry,” he alleges in the filings. “All of this has resulted in a significant reduction in my earnings.”

In addition to child support payments, the documents show Sheen is “past due” on payments to his home mortgage and pool and gardening services.

The USA Today article is here.


Heartbreak Postnuptial Agreement

Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of rock legend Elvis Presley, is as happy as a ‘hound dog’. A judge in her divorce from Michael Lockwood recently ruled that her postnuptial agreement waiving alimony is valid.

postnuptial agreement

Are You Lonesome Tonight?

Although she is single, the daughter of music legend Elvis Presley is not without her riches. The family court ruling means she won’t have to pay her estranged husband spousal support, according to court papers obtained by TheWrap.

In an order handed down Aug. 17, a judge found that a 2007 post-nuptial agreement signed by Presley and Lockwood in which they waived spousal support in the event of a split, is valid.

The Wonder of Postnuptial Agreements

I’ve written about various marital agreements before. Postnups are written agreements signed after a couple gets married, or have entered a civil union, to settle the couple’s affairs and assets in the event of a separation or divorce.

Postnuptial agreements are enforceable in divorce cases. But, there are two separate grounds by which either spouse may challenge such an agreement and have it vacated or even modified.

First, a spouse may set aside or modify an agreement by establishing that it was reached under fraud, deceit, duress, coercion, misrepresentation, or overreaching.

The second ground to vacate a settlement agreement contains multiple elements. Initially, the challenging spouse must establish that the agreement makes an unfair or unreasonable provision for that spouse, given the circumstances of the parties.

To establish that an agreement is unreasonable, the challenging spouse must present evidence of the parties’ relative situations, including their respective ages, health, education, and financial status.

With this basic information, a family court judge may determine that the agreement, on its face, does not adequately provide for the challenging spouse and, consequently, is unreasonable.

In making this determination, the trial judge has to find that the agreement is “disproportionate to the means” of the defending spouse. This usually requires some evidence to establish a defending spouse’s financial means. Additional evidence may also be necessary.

Keep in mind that this standard for avoiding or modifying the agreement happens when a couple is not in the midst of litigation against each other. This does not govern marital settlement agreements entered into during the course of divorce litigation.

Return to Sender

According to the papers, the agreement was arrived at the year after Presley and Lockwood married, and before the couple’s twins were born.

The order purportedly said that the post-nuptial agreement stated that:

“in the event of a judgment of nullity, legal separation or dissolution of marriage, neither party shall be obligated to pay spousal support to the other.”

The court added that Lockwood didn’t read this because it didn’t interest him, but he signed documents containing that language, twice, initialing every page on the July 2007 copy, and his attorney “signed the November 2007 version.”

Viva las agreements. The Wrap article is here.


Divorce and Student Loans

According to a recent survey, borrowers with student loans have been found to take on more debt, are more likely to divorce, and that just holding student loans can be a contributing factor in some divorces.

divorce student loans

Recent Study

Money problems are usually an indicator of divorce. Since student debt can constitute a major financial strain, it can impact a marriage. This new survey underscores the importance of minimizing your debt.

The survey showed that:

  • The average Class of 2017 graduate walked away with a diploma and $39,400 in debt; and
  • The 2017 graduate’s debt represents a 6% increase from the previous year; and
  • Americans owe $1.48 trillion in loans.

It’s clearly taking a toll – not just on finances – but on marriages. This new survey reveals that these loans could increase your likelihood of getting divorced. According to a new study, 58% of divorcees with student loans took on debt to help pay for attorney fees and other related costs during their divorce proceedings. Compare that with 48% percent of all divorcees who borrowed money to pay for a divorce.

Couples with student loan debt are more likely to delay divorce because of cost. More than a third of respondents with student loans (35%) delayed their divorce because they couldn’t afford it, compared with 24% of couples without student debt.

Florida Divorce and Student Loans

I’ve written about equitable distribution and divorce debt before. While the initial premise behind an equitable distribution of marital assets and liabilities is equal distribution, if there is a proper justification, a family court judge may make an unequal distribution.

As a general proposition, student loans incurred during the marriage are marital debts. And, unless there is a proper justification supporting an unequal distribution of student loans, they must be equitably distributed between the parties.

Sometimes people argue that a spouse won’t receive any benefit from the other spouse’s law school or medical school degree. However, the benefit of an education is not considered a factor the court should consider when allocating a marital debt for student loans.

Survey Says . . .

The survey also had some other sobering results:

  • 13% of respondents who had student loan debt going into their marriage claim that it eventually led to the end of their marriage.
  • Almost 7 in 10 divorcees have changed how they manage their money after their divorce.
  • 36% of borrowers with student loan report they lied to a partner about money.
  • Roughly one third respondents claimed a decreased sex drive because of their student loans.

Large debts and monthly payments can make it difficult to buy a home, save for retirement, or make it from paycheck to paycheck. Worse still, you’re probably stuck with your student loan whether you can afford it or not.

The Survey is here.


Today’s Property Division

According to People, former Today Show anchor, Matt Lauer, is finalizing his divorce with Annette Roque. The settlement is rumored to involve him paying his wife up to $20 million. The details of the property division however is unknown, but is a reminder that divorce property division laws in Florida recently changed in a big way.

Property Division

Good Morning Property Divisions

According to People, the couple, who wed 20 years ago in 1998, has agreed to share custody of their children. He is rumored to have a lot of guilt and wants to make sure Annette is taken care of.


They seem happier and their family and friends are thrilled to see they are both moving forward.”

Left unsaid in the article is what happens to the $7 million coop in New York City, the Hamptons beachfront estate he bought for $36 million from actor Richard Gere, his Sag Harbor home, and other properties.

Florida Property Division . . . and Friends

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.

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.

Passive Appreciation and Morning Joe

Passive appreciation of a nonmarital asset may also be a marital asset the court must equitably distribute. For example, Lauer bought his upper East Side apartment for roughly $6 million, but has it listed for over $7 million.

In 2010, the Florida Supreme Court held that “passive appreciation of a nonmarital asset … is properly considered a marital asset where marital funds or the efforts of either party contributed to the appreciation.”

The Florida Supreme Court created a formula for courts to use in determining the value of the passive appreciation of nonmarital real property for equitable distribution.

But the formula was flawed because there is no relationship between the amount of marital funds used to pay down a mortgage during a marriage, and the passive appreciation of the property.

Also, the case requires a nonowner spouse to have made contributions to the property as a prerequisite to sharing in the passive appreciation of the property.

Live with Kaaa

Recently, Governor Scott signed a bill to fix the problem. The bill amends our equitable distribution statute and establishes a statutory formula for courts to use.

The new statutory formula does not require the nonowner spouse to have made contributions to the property, and also bars the marital portion of nonmarital real property from exceeding the total net equity of the property on the valuation date in the divorce action.

The People article is available here.


Real Ex-Housewives of OC

Gina Kirschenheiter, one of two new cast members this season on “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” and her husband, Matthew, have decided to divorce, and sell their Coto de Caza house. What goes into the decision to sell the marital home?

Divorce House

Real Trouble in OC

They may live in the lap of luxury, but life isn’t always perfect for the women who reside in one of the wealthiest enclaves of the U.S. The real housewives of OC may continue to focus on living large; plastic surgery, working out, shopping, drinking, and dancing, but real life sometimes intrudes.

The Bravo TV personality filed for divorce from Matthew Kirschenheiter claiming irreconcilable differences. She’s seeking sole physical custody and joint legal custody of their three children, ages 2-5, as well as spousal support.

Once you’ve decided to divorce, new decisions need to be made: who is going to move out of the house, and are you going to sell the house – or not. Florida’s property division statute requires distributing the marital property but is not exactly a how-to guide.

Deciding Whether to Sell

There’s really no right or wrong answer to whether you should sell or keep a house. Your decision will depend on various factors.

Some of the factors influencing the decision to sell are things like your personality, is the house titled in both of your names, are there children, if so, where are the best schools, and how far away are the two parents’ homes.

Equitable Distribution

I’ve written about houses and property divisions before. In every Florida divorce proceeding the court has to set apart nonmarital property and distribute the marital property.

Florida judges always begin with the premise that the property distribution should be equal, unless there is a reason for an unequal distribution based on several factors.

One of the factors the court has to consider is the desirability of keeping the home for the kids or a spouse, if it’s equitable to do so, if it’s in the best interest of the child, and financially feasible.

The Sale

There are problems with keeping a house in which your name is still on title. If your real ex-spouse doesn’t pay the mortgage timely, your credit will suffer. And, if someone invited to your old home is hurt, the injured person will sue the record title owners for damages. If your name is on title as an owner, that’s you! Making sure you keep insurance on the house may be required.

A fresh start and new beginning after a complete division of all of the assets tying you together with your Ex is the best way to go forward for some people.

The Real Housewives couple bought the house in 24-hour, guard-gated Coto de Caza in April 2016 for $840,000, property records show. The gourmet kitchen includes Viking appliances, wooden cabinets and a breakfast nook. There’s also a landscaped backyard with a lawn and barbecue area. The house has a three-car garage and is within walking distance of a community park.

The Mercury News article is here.


International Custody

The European Union is reporting that increasing rates of international divorces – and cross-border child abductions – have become a real problem in international custody cases. The same is true in the United States. There are some treaties to deal with international custody cases everyone should know about.

International Custody

Go Dutch

The emphasis within the EU is that laws on conflict resolution need to be improved. The ministers in the EU are proposing that EU law should further emphasize protecting the rights of the child, and that decisions on parental child abduction cases must be made by practicing and experienced family judges.

The EU proposes to strengthen the rights of children throughout the dispute resolution procedure between divorcing couples.

If a child is abducted to another EU country by one of their parents, the EU proposes that the matter must be dealt with by practicing and experienced family judges, to ensure the best interests of the child are prioritized.

Hague Child Abductions

I have written – and will be speaking in January – on international custody and child abduction cases under The Hague Convention. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is supposed to provide remedies for a “left-behind” parent, like Mr. Cook, to obtain the wrongfully removed or retained children to the country of their habitual residence.

When a child under 16 who was habitually residing in one signatory country is wrongfully removed to, or retained in, another signatory country, The Hague Convention provides that the other country: “order the return of the child forthwith” and “shall not decide on the merits of rights of custody.”

There are defenses though. For example, the court considered whether there is a grave risk that the child’s return would expose them to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.

Dutch Oven

According to EU policy makers, the child is the weakest link in disputes between parents during international custody cases, and therefore needs all the protection the EU can give. Notably, the hearing of the child is a key issue which merits detailed provisions.

Ministers in the EU also want to improve information-sharing and cooperation between the member states for international custody and divorce cases. The Commission estimates that there are 16 million international families in the EU and sets the number of international divorces in the EU at around 140,000 per year. There are around 1,800 parental child abductions within the EU every year.

The Europa article is here.


Divorce Time Flies

The New York Times is the latest media outlet noting that a new tax law – that took effect in January – has added a new urgency for many Americans contemplating divorce. Why would a new tax law have such an impact on divorce?

divorce time

Beat the Clock

As the New York Times article notes, several key changes in the tax law may determine whether it is better to complete or update a divorce agreement by Dec. 31st or wait until the new year.

One of the biggest changes affects alimony, which will not be a tax break for Americans after this year. The new tax law is also causing parting spouses to look more closely at benefits for their children and the values of privately owned businesses and partnerships.

In the Nick of Time

I’ve written about the area of divorce and taxes before, but the Times article notes four areas that couples considering a divorce should examine before the end of the year:


As many people have heard, the tax law is going to turn the calendar back on alimony. 77 years in fact. That was the year the Revenue Act of 1942 first made alimony deductible for the spouse paying it and taxable for the spouse receiving it.

The new tax law could become a problem in divorces settled after December 31, 2018, because under the new law, the alimony payer will be taxed on the full amount while the recipient will pay no tax on it.

Prenuptial Agreements

It is common in prenuptial agreement to have language calculating alimony payments based on years of marriage, and a clause saying alimony payments are deductible for one spouse.

In the absence of guidance from the I.R.S., a document calling for deductible alimony might not be honored if alimony is no longer deductible.

Business Valuations

Business valuations have always been an important component of divorce. The new tax law increases the cash flow of certain pass-through entities — businesses where the taxes are picked up by the owner, not the company — in a way that raises their value.

However, a higher cash flow – because of the change in the tax law this year  – may not be known until the business owner files a tax return next year.

Other Assets

Should you ask for the house or retirement? The new tax law, particularly in states where deductions for high state and local taxes have been capped, may make the home less valuable than a retirement account with a similar value.

Spouses who get the retirement account will not be able to draw down on it until age 59½, but they will have a more solid financial base in their later years. And by opting for the retirement account over the house, they can avoid paying those property taxes.

The New York Times article is here.


Divorce Denied

Can you lose a divorce case? An English woman who wants to divorce her husband of 40 years actually lost! The British Supreme Court ruled she must stay married because her husband refuses to divorce. How does the recent British case compare with a Florida divorce?

Divorce Denied


Five judges at Britain’s highest court unanimously upheld rulings by a family court and the court of appeal that Tini Owens, 68, cannot divorce, but must stay married to Hugh Owens, 80, despite her complaint that the marriage was loveless and had broken down.

“The appeal of Mrs. Owens must be dismissed. She must remain married to Mr. Owens for the time being,” the supreme court judge Lord Wilson said in the majority ruling. “Parliament may wish to consider whether to replace a law which denies to Mrs. Owens any present entitlement to a divorce in the above circumstances.”

Tini’s case has thrust Britain’s lack of provision for no-fault divorce into the spotlight. Even spouses mutually seeking to end a marriage must, unless they have been living apart, assign blame and make often damaging allegations that lawyers say inflame potentially amicable proceedings.

Florida No-Fault

I’ve written about no-fault divorce before. Historically in Florida, in order to obtain a divorce, one had to prove the existence of legal grounds such as adultery. This 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 1971, Florida passed its “no-fault” divorce law. The rationale behind no-fault laws was that requiring someone to prove legal grounds to dissolve the marriage was not serving any useful purpose.

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.

Stiff Upper Lip

Back in Britain, Tini and Hugh Owens married in 1978. Tini first consulted solicitors about a divorce in 2012, but despite her having an affair the couple continued to live together until February 2015.

Tini asked for divorce because her husband prioritized work over home life, his lack love and affection, his moodiness, and they had grown apart. Her husband denied the allegations about his behavior, and still hoped his wife would change her mind and return to live with him.

The trial judge dismissed her divorce, ruling that her case was flimsy and exaggerated. The judge said that while Hugh was “somewhat old-school”, Tini was more sensitive than most wives.

She appealed, where it was again dismissed. The three appeal court judges said she had failed to establish, in the legal sense, that her marriage had irretrievably broken down, despite one saying she had reached her conclusion with “no enthusiasm whatsoever”.

The supreme court’s judgment on Wednesday morning was her last hope. They noted:

Tini would be able to divorce in 2020, when the couple will have been separated for five years and she will be eligible for a divorce without consent or evidence of fault.

In the U.K., keeping a stiff upper lip is an attribute of the British who stay resolute and unemotional in the face of adversity. Tini will just have to stick it out until 2020.

The Guardian article is here.


Alimony Modification

Florida law allows you to lower what you pay in alimony each month, increase your alimony payments, or terminate alimony payments altogether. A recent Florida case is an interesting example why alimony modification is a hot issue.

Alimony modification

Florida Alimony Modification

There are a few reasons why alimony can be modified. Dramatic changes in health, inability to go back to work (due to disability, injury, etc.), substantial raise in pay, big gifts or lottery winnings, loss of job, and of course, retirement are the major forces behind alimony modification.

I’ve written about alimony modification before. In Florida, to modify alimony, the payor has to show three fundamental things: a substantial change in circumstances, the change was not contemplated at the time of the final judgment of dissolution, and that the change is sufficient, material, involuntary and permanent in nature.

The Supreme Court of Florida has addressed the impact of retirement on support obligations in Florida. To determine whether a voluntary retirement is reasonable, courts must consider, in part, the payor’s age, health, and motivation for retirement, the type of work, and the age at which others engaged in that line of work normally retire.

In Florida there’s been a debate about whether these reasons for modifying alimony have to be “unanticipated” or can they be reasons everyone knew about. That dispute was recently settled here.

Retirement Accounts

In a recent Florida case, the trial judge and the spouses did not take into consideration the eventual income that the former wife would receive from her retirement and annuity accounts without penalty, once she reached retirement age when they drafted their settlement agreement more than 10 years ago.

Her former husband asked the court for an alimony modification – even though he had not retired and had the ability to pay the required alimony – because the former wife’s retirement accounts had appreciated, and she had reached the age of 59 ½, so she could take distributions without penalty.

The family court judge agreed to grant an alimony modification, and the former wife appealed. The former wife argued that her ability to access the retirement accounts without penalty was not an unanticipated change in circumstances, and alimony may not be modified in Florida for anticipated changes in circumstances.

The appellate court, agreed with the former husband, and sustained the alimony modification. Given that their agreement was silent as to what would happen once the former wife could access the funds in retirement accounts, the retirement accounts had not been taken into consideration to determine the former wife’s income.

The appellate decision is here.