Year: 2022

No Charm for Florida Alimony Reform

The third time is not a charm for Florida Alimony Reform 2022. Declaring the bill unconstitutional, Governor, Ron DeSantis vetoed SB 1796. This is the third time a Republican governor has vetoed an alimony bill, and comes a few hours after another important decision is made.

Lucky Charm Alimony

No Lucky Charms for Alimony Reform

If politics makes strange bedfellows, what is behind governor DeSantis’s veto? Interestingly, the alimony reform bill was sponsored by the state chairman of his own Republican party, and opposed by the National Organization for Women and the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar.

Even more interesting, the veto was signed mere hours after the U.S. Supreme Court released its long-awaited opinion which overturned Roe v. Wade.

Florida’s own abortion ban, HB 5, is currently before the Florida Supreme Court. But on Friday afternoon, many wonder how the Republican controlled legislature and Gov. DeSantis will react in the era of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

The alimony reform bill this year, in part, would have done away with permanent alimony and set up maximum payments based on the duration of marriage. The bill also required a court to prioritize bridge-the-gap alimony first, followed by rehabilitative and durational alimony.

The bill also addressed equal timesharing:

Unless otherwise provided in this section or agreed to by the parties, there is a presumption that equal time-sharing of a minor child is in the best interests of the minor child who is common to the parties.

Finally, the bill provided for bifurcation of a divorce proceeding after 365 days has elapsed since the petition was filed, and authorizes the court to enter temporary orders on substantial issues until such issues can be ultimately decided.

Florida Alimony

I’ve written about alimony reform in Florida. In every Florida divorce case, the court can grant alimony to either party. Not many people realize there are several types of alimony in Florida: bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational, or for the moment, permanent alimony.

Florida courts can also award a combination of alimony types in a divorce. Alimony awards are normally paid in periodic payments, but sometimes the payments can be in a lump sum or both lump sum and periodic payments.

Typically, courts consider any type of earned income or compensation — that is, income resulting from employment or other efforts — along with recurring passive income, such as dividends on your investments, in establishing the amount of support you will be responsible to pay.

In Florida, once a court determines there is a need and the income available to pay alimony – sometimes referred to as the ability to pay alimony – it has to decide the proper type and amount of alimony.

In doing so, the court considers several factors, some of which can include things like: the standard of living established during the marriage; the duration of the marriage, the age and the physical and emotional condition of each party and the financial resources of each party, including the nonmarital and the marital assets and liabilities distributed to each.

Magically Unpalatable

One of the most-controversial parts of SB 1796 was how it changed the process for modifying alimony when people retire. The bill threatened to impoverish older ex-spouses who have been homemakers and depend on the payments.

Commentators remarked that the portions of the bill allowing for modification of alimony based on retirement of the payor were retroactive, and that retroactivity made the bill unconstitutional. In fact, governor DeSantis pointed this out in his letter:

“If CS/CS/SB 1796 were to become law and be given retroactive effect as the Legislature intends, it would unconstitutionally impair vested rights under certain preexisting marital settlement agreements,” the governor wrote.

Many ex-spouses who appeared before legislative committees to speak against the bill said they agreed to give up assets at the time of their divorces in exchange for permanent alimony awards.

The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar, which lobbied against the bill, thanked the governor for understanding the bad precedent the retroactivity of the measure would have established.

A statement attributed to Family Law Section Chair, Philip Wartenberg and immediate past chair, Heather Apicella, stated:

“If signed into law, this legislation would have upended thousands upon thousands of settlements, backlogging the courts and throwing many Floridians’ lives into turmoil”

People and organizations on both sides of the issue heavily lobbied DeSantis’ office. As of last Friday, the governor had received 5,939 emails in support of the bill and 1,250 in opposition, along with 349 phone calls in favor and 289 against the measure.

When asked for a tally of phone calls and emails about the bill, DeSantis’ office also provided excerpts from messages pleading with the governor for a veto.

The WFSU article is here.

New Hague Child Abduction Case

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a new opinion, its fifth, in a case involving the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. In settling the circuit court conflict, the Supreme Court addressed the undertakings requirement in grave risk cases.

Hague Convention

Last Supper for Undertakings Plus?

Narkis Golan is a U.S. citizen who married Isacco Saada, an Italian citizen in Milan, Italy. She soon moved to Milan, and their son, B.A.S., was born in Milan, They lived in Milan for the first two years of B.A.S.’ life.

But their marriage was violent from the beginning. The two fought on an almost daily basis and, during their arguments, Saada would sometimes push, slap, and grab Golan and pull her hair, yelled and swore at her and frequently insulted her and called her names. Much of Saada’s abuse of Golan occurred in front of his son.

In 2018, Golan flew with B.A.S. to the United States to attend her brother’s wedding. Rather than return as scheduled, she moved into a domestic violence shelter.

Saada filed in Italy a criminal complaint for kidnapping and initiated a civil proceeding seeking sole custody of B.A.S., and also filed a petition under the Hague Convention and ICARA in a New York District Court seeking to return their son to Italy.

The U.S. District Court granted Saada’s petition, determining Italy was the child’s habitual residence and that Golan had wrongfully retained him in violation of Saada’s rights of custody.

But the trial court found returning the child to Italy would expose him to a grave risk of harm because Saada was “violent — physically, psychologically, emotionally, and verbally — to” Golan and the child was present for much of it.

Records also indicated that Italian social services had also concluded that “‘the family situation entails a developmental danger’ for the child and that Saada had demonstrated no “capacity to change his behavior.”

The trial court still ordered the child’s return to Italy based on Second Circuit precedent that it “‘examine the full range of options that might make possible the safe return of a child to the home country’” before denying return. To comply with these precedents, the District Court required the parties to propose “‘ameliorative measures’” for the child’s safe return.

The trial court rejected Golan’s argument that Saada could not be trusted to comply with a court order, expressing confidence in the Italian courts’ abilities to enforce the protective order.

The Second Circuit affirmed, concluding the trial did not clearly err in determining that Saada likely would comply with the Italian protective order, given his compliance with other court orders and the threat of enforcement by Italian authorities of its order.

The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve the circuit split and decide whether ameliorative measures must be considered after a grave risk finding.

Florida Child Abduction

I have written and spoken on international custody and child abduction cases under the Hague Convention. The Convention is supposed to provide remedies for a left-behind parent, like Mr. Saada, to obtain a wrongfully removed or retained child 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 Convention provides that the other country: “order the return of the child forthwith.”

There are defenses though. For example, in the Golan case, the court considered Article 13(b), which states that a court is not bound to order the return of the child if the court finds that return would expose the child to a “grave risk” of physical or psychological harm.

The grave risk defense is narrowly drawn. There is an assumption that courts in the left behind country can protect children, which is why courts in some circuits are required to consider ameliorative measures.

New Hague

Il Duomo di Washington D.C.

The Supreme Court noted that the interpretation of a treaty, like the Hague Convention, begins with its text, and nothing in the Convention’s text either forbids or requires consideration of ameliorative measures.

The Court held that judges may consider ameliorative measures with the grave risk determination, but the Convention does not require it. By requiring ameliorative measures, the Second Circuit’s rule re-wrote the treaty by imposing an atextual, categorical requirement that courts consider all possible ameliorative measures in exercising this discretion, regardless of whether such consideration is consistent with the Convention’s objectives.

The Court also held that a trial court “ordinarily should address ameliorative measures raised by the parties or obviously suggested by the circumstances of the case, such as in the example of the localized epidemic.”

First, any consideration of ameliorative measures must prioritize the child’s physical and psychological safety. Second, consideration of ameliorative measures should abide by the Convention’s requirement that courts addressing return petitions do not usurp the role of the court that will adjudicate the underlying custody dispute. Third, any consideration of ameliorative measures must accord with the Convention’s requirement that courts “act expeditiously in proceedings for the return of children.

The Court then remanded to allow the District Court to apply the proper legal standard. Recognizing that remand would delay the case, the opinion hinted the District Court will move “as expeditiously as possible to reach a final decision without further unnecessary delay.”

The opinion is here.

 

Catastrophic Fraud After Divorce

Fraud can lurk in every divorce case. After the divorce ends, lawyers, professionals, experts, and judges have all moved on to other cases. That is the time many clients and their divorce settlements can be exposed to catastrophic fraud – as one Tennessee woman is reported to have discovered.

divorce fraud

Beale Street Blues

Lawyers act as fiduciaries to their clients during a family law case. Accountants, financial planners, and others can become fiduciaries after the divorce. In a fiduciary relationship, the  duties involved need not be strictly legal; they can also be moral, social, domestic or personal.

In 2003, Ms. Loveland received approximately $1.3 million dollars in connection with her divorce. Knowing that these funds would be vital to her future retirement, she sought out an investment advisor who could manage her assets as she claims she had no knowledge or experience with investments, securities, or financial markets.

Ms. Loveland met with her long-time accountant, who referred her to his friend, Mr. Lentz. She then agreed to allow Lentz to manage her assets. She alleges she informed him that she knew nothing about finance or securities, and that she was relying entirely on his discretion and judgment to manage her investments for her.

Mr. Lentz reassured her that he would take good care of her and would manage her assets in a reasonable and responsible manner, ensuring that she would enjoy some return on her investments while protecting her principal asset base.

However, Ms. Loveland discovered to her shock that Mr. Lentz filled out an Options Account Request Form, purportedly on her behalf, in which he allegedly indicated that her investment objective was “Growth” and that her trading experience was “Extensive.”

According to the lawsuit, Lentz allegedly used “DocuSign” to forge Ms. Loveland’s signature to the Options Account Request, and is also alleged to have cut and pasted customer’s signatures onto forms without their authorization, and arranged to receive Loveland’s financial statements on her behalf.

Last summer, after discussing employment prospects for roughly an hour, Lentz told her:

“now for the bad news . . . you have no money left, it’s all gone.

Loveland’s divorce settlement of around $1.3 million is now worth around $7,000 and she has filed a lawsuit in a Tennessee federal court against Lentz and his companies.

Florida Divorce Fraud

I’ve written about various aspects of divorce fraud before. Interestingly, Ms. Loveland’s case is not about fraud against her ex-husband, but misconduct which occurred after her divorce, involving the loss of her $1.3 million divorce settlement.

What happens if the fraud is caused by a spouse? In Florida, courts distribute the marital assets, such as bank accounts, between parties under the premise that the distribution should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution.

Some of the factors to justify an unequal distribution of the property include things like the financial situation the parties, the length of the marriage, whether someone has interrupted their career or an educational opportunity, or how much one spouse contributed to the other’s career or education.

Another important factor is whether one of the parties intentionally dissipated, wasted, depleted, or destroyed any of the marital assets after the filing of the petition or within 2 years prior to the filing of the petition.

Dissipation of marital assets, such as taking money from a joint bank account, happens a lot. Less common are scams like forging names and diverting financial statements. The misconduct may serve as a basis for assigning the dissipated asset to the spending spouse when calculating equitable distribution.

Misconduct, for purposes of dissipation, does not mean mismanagement or simple squandering of marital assets in a manner of which the other spouse disapproves, such as day trading stocks. There has to be evidence of intentional dissipation or destruction.

However, if the fraud is not from a spouse during divorce, but mismanagement of your divorce settlement by anyone who is not your spouse, you are limited to civil causes of action in civil court, as opposed to family court.

Going to Graceland

Ms. Loveland’s lawsuit alleges a lot of damages. She was forced to surrender a Long-Term Care policy that she paid premiums on since 2004 and surrender a $250,000 Life Insurance Policy in which she had invested over $18,000.00 because she can’t pay the nearly $5,000 premiums.

Loveland alleges that as a result of Lentz’ actions:

“now, at the age of sixty-four, forced to work long hours for Uber and DoorDash merely to make ends meet.”

Ms. Loveland has sued in civil court for violation of the Tennessee Securities Act, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, among other causes of action, and is seeking punitive damages.

The Wealth Professional article is here.

International Child Abduction Case Goes Blue

What happens when a German family court, a Michigan family court, and a U.S. District Court all get involved with the same international child abduction case to return wrongfully removed children at the same time? One Michigan family just found out.

International Child Custody

Going Blue

Father and Mother share two children. The mother, alleged that the children were wrongfully removed from Germany to the state of Michigan by their Father.

From the time of their births, the children lived with both parents in Plymouth, Michigan – about 20 miles from Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. Then the family moved to Germany in 2014. The children visited the United States multiple times during the time they lived in Germany.

The parties agreed that the father could take the children to visit relatives in the United States for the summer of 2020 until early September. However, the Father never returned to Germany with the children despite the Mother’s demands that he do so.

In November, the Mother filed a Hague return petition in U.S. District Court in Michigan. They tried mediation, but mediation was a failure.

Concurrently with the federal Hague action, [Mother] also filed a UCCJEA action in the family division of the Wayne County Circuit Court to register and enforce a Germany custody order requiring the return of the children from Michigan to their home state in Germany.

In December, a Wayne County family court judge ordered the Father to bring the children to state court so the Mother could return to Germany with the children in compliance with the German family court order awarding the Mother custody of the children.

In January, the Mother filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss the Hague return action because the federal Hague petition as moot after the children were returned to Germany in accordance with the Wayne County family court ruling.

But incredibly, the father opposed the dismissal of the mother’s Hague petition.

Florida International Child Custody

I’ve written and spoken about international child custody cases under the Hague Convention and the UCCJEA before. The Hague Convention seeks to deter child abductions by a parent by eliminating their primary motivation for doing so: to “deprive the abduction parent’s actions of any practical or juridical consequences.”

The removal or the retention of a child is to be considered wrongful where it is in breach of rights of custody attributed to a person, an institution or any other body, either jointly or alone, under the law of the State in which the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention; and at the time of removal or retention those rights were actually exercised, either jointly or alone, or would have been so exercised but for the removal or retention.

The Hague Convention is implemented in the United States through the International Child Abduction Remedies Act. What is unique about the Act is that Congress expressly provided for both original and concurrent federal jurisdiction. This means a parent has the option of either filing the petition in a state family court, or a federal U.S. district court.

Unlike the U.S. however, many countries are not signatories or treaty partners with us in the Hague Convention. That means that you cannot file a Hague return petition here, because both countries have to be treaty partners. Fortunately, when one of the countries is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, the UCCJEA may provide relief in state court.

Florida, Michigan, and almost all U.S. states passed the UCCJEA into law. The most fundamental aspect of the UCCJEA is the approach to the jurisdiction needed to start a case. In part, the UCCJEA requires a court have some jurisdiction vis-a-vis the child.

That jurisdiction is based on where the child is, and the significant connections the child has with the forum state, let’s say Michigan. The ultimate determining factor in a Michigan case then, is what is the “home state” of the child.

Alternatively, Michigan could possibly hear the case if it was the Home State of the child within 6-months before filing or the children are in Michigan and the court has emergency jurisdiction.

Defense!

Back in Michigan federal court, on March 15, 2022, a U.S. Magistrate Judge issued a report recommending that the mother’s motion to dismiss be granted, and that this matter be dismissed with prejudice.

The Magistrate Judge explained that the only relief available under the Hague Convention petition is return of the children to Germany. Because this relief has already been affected by the Wayne County family court judge, the federal Hague petition is moot.

The father could not, as the respondent, obtain return of the children to the United States by continuing to litigate the Mother’s petition. Nevertheless, the father objected to the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation and asked for a trial.

The U.S. District Judge reviewed the Father’s objection, noted that it had failed to include any argument or cite to any legal authority holding contrary to the conclusions reached by the Magistrate Judge, and failed to identify any specific factual issues the Magistrate Judge erred on.

Accordingly, the Father was found to have waived any objection to the substantive analysis of the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation.

The Magistrate Judge’s order is here.

 

Family Court and Religious School

In a race between schools for your child, when can a family court judge choose the religious school over a secular one? For one Kentucky family’s child custody dispute, the court of appeals decides which school enters the Winner’s Circle.

Custody and School

Starting Gate

In the Kentucky case, a Mother and Father shared joint custody of their daughter, who has been at the center of a protracted legal dispute since the parties’ separation in 2016. The parties could not reach an agreement as to where the child should attend kindergarten, and asked the court to resolve the issue.

The Father, who is Catholic, liked that Seton was a Catholic school but noted that the curriculum also emphasized general Christian principles, as well as secular subjects such as Darwinism and evolution (ed. wow)

Father said that he was willing to pay Seton tuition costs. Father expressed concern about child attending Berea Independent due to Mother’s pending criminal charges in Berea for second-degree animal cruelty. Because Berea is a small community, Father worried child could be stigmatized, even if Mother was acquitted.

Mother, who is Baptist, was not comfortable with child attending a Catholic school and preferred that child attend a secular school. Mother testified that Berea Independent was her primary choice because it was less than a mile from her work, was in a small town, and was where she went to school as a child. She also liked that it provided a K-12 grade education in one place and liked the open classroom layout of the school.

Following the hearing, the family court judge entered an order with detailed findings of fact, concluding that it was in child’s best interest to attend Catholic school.

The Mother appealed.

Florida Divorce and Religion

I have written about the intersection of religion and custody before, especially when that intersection relates to harm to the child. For example in one area there is a frequent religious controversy: whether to give a child their mandatory vaccinations.  Usually, religion is used by the objecting parent as a defense to vaccinating children.

Whenever a court decides custody, the sine qua non is the best interests of the child. But, deciding the religious upbringing of a child puts the court in a tough position.

There is nothing in the Florida custody statute allowing a court to consider religion as a factor in custody, and a court’s choosing one parent’s religious beliefs over another’s, probably violates the Constitution.

So, unless there is actual harm being done to the child by the religious upbringing, it would seem that deciding the child’s faith is out of bounds for a judge. One of the earliest Florida case in which religion was a factor in deciding parental responsibility restricted one parent from exposing the children to that parent’s religion.

In one Florida case, the Mother was a member of The Way International, and the Father introduced evidence that The Way made the Mother an unfit parent. He alleged The Way psychologically brainwashed her, that she had become obsessed, and was neglecting the children. The Florida judge awarded custody to the Mother provided that she sever all connections, meetings, tapes, visits, communications, or financial support with The Way, and not subject the children to any of its dogmas.

The Mother appealed the restrictions as a violation of her free exercise of religion. The appellate court agreed, and held the restrictions were unconstitutionally overbroad and expressly restricted the Mother’s free exercise of her religious beliefs and practices.

When the matter involves the religious training and beliefs of the child, the court generally does not make a decision in favor of a specific religion over the objection of the other parent. The court should also avoid interference with the right of a parent to practice their own religion and avoid imposing an obligation to enforce the religious beliefs of the other parent.

The Home Stretch

Mother argued on appeal that the family court’s order compels her to send her child to a Catholic school she is conscientiously opposed to in violation of her constitutional rights.

The appellate court found that when parties to a joint custody agreement are unable to agree on a major issue concerning their child’s upbringing, the trial court must evaluate the circumstances and resolve the issue according to the child’s best interest.

The appellate court found substantial evidence to support the family court’s decision that sending child to Catholic school was in child’s best interest. The court specifically mentioned the school’s proximity to the interstate, its later start time, its teacher-to-student ratio, its on-site aftercare program, and the fact that child would know other students attending.

Perhaps most importantly, the family court felt it was not in child’s best interest to attend the secular, Berea Independent because of the possibility that child might experience negative social stigma due to Mother’s pending animal cruelty case in Berea.

Further, the trial court specifically noted its decision was not based upon religious interests. Mother “bear[s] the burden of proving that the decision of the trial court was based upon religious interests and such impropriety [will] not be presumed merely because the school selected had a religious connotation in addition to its academic offerings.”

The Kentucky Court of Appeals opinion can be found here.

Free Speech, Child Custody, and Insults

Free speech can be an issue in any child custody case when parents hurl insults at each other in front of their children. Because it is not in the children’s best interest, family judges can order parents not to disparage the other parent in front of the children. One Indianapolis court recently had to consider whether an anti-disparagement order went too far.

Free Speech Custody

Start Your Engines

After several years of marriage, Yaima Israel, filed for divorce from her husband Jamie Israel. After the trial, the family court judge decided that joint legal custody was an “unworkable” option based on the parents’ inability to agree about their child’s health, education and welfare. As a result, Yaima was awarded sole legal custody.

The family court’s decree also contained a non-disparagement clause. Family courts sometimes enjoin speech that expressly or implicitly criticizes the other parent.

In another case for example, a mother was stripped of custody partly because she truthfully told her 12-year-old that her ex-husband, who had raised the daughter from birth, wasn’t in fact the girl’s biological father.

In the recent Indianapolis case, the order prohibited either parent from “making disparaging comments about the other in writing or conversation to or in the presence of child.

However, the order also prohibited insulting the other parent in front of friends, family members, doctors, teachers, associated parties, co-workers, employers, the parenting coordinator, media, the press, or anyone else. All kinds of speech was banned, including “negative statements, criticisms, critiques, insults[,] or other defamatory comments.”

The Husband challenged the judge’s non-disparagement clause that restrained them from ever making disparaging remarks about one another, regardless of whether the child was present.

Florida Child Custody and Free Speech

I’ve written about free speech in family cases before. Family courts have a lot of power to protect children. The “best interests of the child” test — the standard applied in all Florida child custody disputes between parents — gives family court judges a lot of discretion to ban speech which can harm children. Accordingly, Florida courts have to balance a parent’s right of free expression against the state’s interest in assuring the well-being of minor children.

In Florida, parents have had their rights to free speech limited or denied for various reasons. In one case, a mother went from primary caregiver to supervised visits – under the nose of a time-sharing supervisor. The trial judge also allowed her daily telephone calls with her daughter, supervised by the Father.

The Mother was Venezuelan, and because the Father did not speak Spanish, the court ordered: “Under no circumstances shall the Mother speak Spanish to the child.”

The judge was concerned about the Mother’s comments, after the Mother “whisked” the child away from the time-sharing supervisor in an earlier incident and had a “private” conversation with her in a public bathroom. The Mother was also bipolar and convicted of two crimes. The Florida appeals court reversed the restriction. Ordering a parent not to speak Spanish violates the freedom of speech and right to privacy.

Florida law tries to balance the burden placed on the right of free expression essential to the furtherance of the state’s interests in promoting the best interests of children. In other words, in that balancing act, the best interests of children can be a compelling state interest justifying a restraint of a parent’s right of free speech.

But some have argued that if parents in intact families have the right to speak to their children without the government restricting their speech, why don’t parents in broken families have the same rights?

The Constitutional Brickyard

The Indianapolis appellate court ruled that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, made applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.

Restraining orders and injunctions that forbid future speech activities, such as non-disparagement orders, are classic examples of prior restraints. Non-disparagement orders are, by definition, a prior restraint on speech. Prior restraints on speech are the most serious and the least tolerable infringement on free speech rights.

While a prior restraint is not per se unconstitutional, it does come to a court bearing a heavy presumption against its constitutional validity.

To determine whether a prior restraint is constitutional under the First Amendment, the court considers: (a) ‘the nature and extent’ of the speech in question, (b) ‘whether other measures would be likely to mitigate the effects of unrestrained’ speech, and (c) ‘how effectively a restraining order would operate to prevent the threatened danger.’”

There is a compelling government interest in protecting children from being exposed to disparagement between their parents. To the extent the non-disparagement clause prohibits both parents from disparaging the other in Child’s presence, the order furthers the compelling State interest in protecting the best interests of Child and does not violate the First Amendment.

But the non-disparagement clause in this case went far beyond furthering that compelling interest because it prohibited the parents from making disparaging comments about the other in the presence of anyone – even when the child was not present.

In the final lap, the court of appeals reversed the portion of the non-disparagement clause including “…friends, family members, doctors, teachers, associated parties, co-workers, employers, the parenting coordinator, media, the press, or anyone” as an unconstitutional prior restraint.

The Indiana court of appeals decision is here.

 

Divorce and Sex

It is a well-established fact that when it comes to divorce, one sex is responsible for initiating the overwhelming percentage of the cases filed. While the decision to divorce is hard, there’s a clear pattern that women file a statistically high proportion of divorce cases. The trend of women filing most divorces is true in other Western countries as well.

divorce sex

Calling it quits

The most recent U.S. data show roughly two thirds of divorces are filed by women. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number is actually closer to 80%

This trend is not only true in the U.S., but in Europe too. And, as the BBC recently reported, the Office of National Statistics showed women petitioned for 62% of divorces in England and Wales in 2019.

In some Western countries, divorce is becoming easier. In the U.S., no-fault divorce ushered in a period of increased divorce filings. In the UK, which recently legalized no-fault divorces, couples can have a quicker break up. Some anticipate the UK’s change in the law could lead to more women – who might have been hesitant before – to file for divorce.

But why do women disproportionately file for divorce in the first place?

Florida No Fault Divorce

I’ve written about divorce statistics, and especially no fault divorces, before. No-fault laws are the result of trying to change the way divorces played out in court. In Florida no fault laws have reduced the number of feuding couples who felt the need to resort to distorted facts, lies, and the need to focus the trial on who did what to whom.

Florida abolished fault as grounds for filing a divorce. Gone are the days when you had to prove adultery, desertion or unreasonable behavior.

The only ground you need to file for divorce in Florida is to prove your marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Additionally, the mental incapacity of one of the parties, where the party was adjudged incapacitated for the prior three year, is another avenue.

There is also a residency requirement in Florida. Believe it or not, the residency requirement can be a major impediment to divorcing for many people. Almost all states require you to be a resident before you can file for divorce. However, the amount of time you have to reside there can vary from state to state.

Why Women Divorce

In many societies, divorce has been a relatively recent phenomenon. In the UK, divorce was extremely uncommon before 1914, with just one divorce in every 450 marriages in the first decade of the 20th Century. Now, more than 100,000 couples in the UK get divorced every year, and in the US, around half of marriages end in divorce.

Research is showing a few theories as to why women were more likely than men to file for divorce. Heidi Kar, a psychologist and expert on domestic violence at the US-based Education Development Center, explains, it’s no coincidence that the rise of divorce has coincided with women’s liberation.

“Because economic independence is an imperative before a woman can attempt to leave a marriage, either alone or with children to support, it’s extremely difficult for women to leave a marriage unless they have some way to make money on their own,” she says. “Also, because gender roles become more complicated as women start to gain financial independence, more marital conflict naturally arises.”

For many women, the expectations they have when they enter marriage may fail to match up to reality. Experts say that they often have a higher expectation of how a partner will meet their emotional needs than men, which can lead to disappointment post-wedding.

Some have argued that heterosexual marriage is not only gendered, but fundamentally asymmetric and inegalitarian as well. Jessie Bernard famously wrote: “There are two marriages, then, in every marital union, his and hers. And his…is better than hers.”

The feminist critique of heterosexual marriage may have less direct application to nonmarital heterosexual relationships. Nonmarital heterosexual relationships generally involve lower levels of commitment, fewer children, and nonmarital unions are less influenced by the legal and cultural history of marriage as a gendered institution.

Women also tend to have more close friends than men, meaning they have a better support system both to discuss any marital issues as well as to ease the transition back into single life. It’s also possible these friendships make divorce seem like a more plausible option – research suggests that if a close friend gets divorced, people’s own chances of divorcing rise by 75%.

Of course, filing for divorce isn’t the same as ending a marriage. While research shows women in heterosexual marriages are more likely to initiate the break-up, there are also women who didn’t choose to end their relationship, but want or need to formalize the split nonetheless.

The BBC article is here.

Depp Divorce and Extortion

The Johnny Depp defamation trial against his ex-wife, Amber Heard, took a turn towards divorce – and possibly extortion. According to sworn deposition testimony introduced in court, after filing for divorce Heard demanded Depp sign divorce papers and comply with her list of demands. Could a settlement letter be considered extortion?

Divorce extortion

On Strange Tides

Heard filed her petition two days after Depp’s mother passed away. At the trial, Heard’s lawyer reportedly said her client was afraid of Depp, but wanted to keep the matter private. Heard’s team was reported to have said they avoided arranging for Depp to be personally served with legal papers at one of his movie premieres.

Heard’s lawyer allegedly wrote:

“Amber wishes to work quickly towards a private and amicable resolution of all matters, but she will need Johnny’s immediate cooperation to do so.”

Heard then demanded Depp sign divorce papers and comply with a list of demands. Heard wanted him to allow her to use the black Range Rover in her possession and for him to make the payments, exclusive use and possession of three units owned by Depp in a Los Angeles building, that he continue to pay the bills, attorney fees forensic accountant fees.

A couple of days later, Heard filed for a restraining order against her then-husband claiming she was the victim of repeated domestic violence.

Florida Extortion and Divorce

I have written about divorce and extortion before. It is easy to cross the line from harmless threats to the crime of extortion. The fact remains that in Florida, it is a second-degree felony to threaten to expose another for the commission of any crime or offense for one’s own pecuniary advantage.

There are several examples of how this happens in divorce. One which comes to mind, is taxes. It is not uncommon for spouses to threaten to report the other spouse to the IRS for underpayment of taxes unless money is paid to keep the silence.

Another very common extortion technique in Florida is to issue a threat to report a spouse to immigration officials. One spouse will to use the threat of deportation unless money is paid in a settlement. This was more common during the previous administration when the country cracked down on illegal immigration.

Extortion also happens when signing settlement agreements. For example, spouses sometimes threaten that if the other spouse does not sign the settlement agreement, the other spouse will tell the children about infidelity, or something else to ruin what reputation the spouse has.

“Why Fight When You Can Negotiate?”

Capt Jack Sparrow

Depp is suing Heard for defamation arising from a 2018 Washington Post op-ed. The article, Depp alleges, insinuated he was the perpetrator; the Oscar-winning actor claims the column made him lose job opportunities.

The letter that Heard’s divorce lawyer sent to Depp’s divorce lawyer was reportedly seen online and mentioned physical injuries Depp allegedly inflicted on Heard and noted that there were many witnesses. It mentioned a domestic violence temporary restraining order, which Heard had not yet sought to keep the issue out of the media spotlight.

Heard’s lawyer reportedly asked Depp’s lawyer to let Heard live rent-free in their apartments while Depp continued to pay the mortgage and utilities in exchange for allegedly keeping their divorce out of the media spotlight. Depp was promoting “Alice in Wonderland” at the time of the couple’s separation. The letter then listed Heard’s demands, concluding:

“We are indeed hopeful that we can swiftly work out mutually acceptable short and long term solutions outside of the public eye.”

Amber Heard’s divorce lawyer’s letter was shown in court last week as evidence in the defamation trial. Depp himself testified in court over four days about their tumultuous relationship and break-up. By the time the divorce was finalized in early 2017, Depp was on the hook for more than $14 million, according to Edward White, Depp’s business manager, who also testified.

Heard pledged to split the $7 million between donations to the ACLU and a children’s hospital. But an ACLU executive who testified this week said it received only $1.3 million of the promised $3.5 million in her name, and that $500,000 of that money actually came from Elon Musk, who Heard dated following her breakup with Depp.

The Insider article is here.

 

Depp, Divorce, and Texts

It may be a defamation trial, but the Johnny Depp case against ex-wife Amber Heard looks more like their divorce. Graphic, revealing texts and scatological testimony are exactly the kinds of evidence you’d expect to see in a bitterly contested child custody case.

Text Divorce Depp

Heard on Court T.V.

Believe it or not, the couple settled their divorce out of court in 2017, with Depp paying his ex-wife $7m. Depp kept his real estate assets, including properties in Los Angeles, Paris and a private island in the Bahamas and 40 vehicles.

Then Depp, 58, sued Ms. Heard, 35, for defamation after she wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post referring to herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”

After more than a year of legal sparring, Ms. Heard then countersued Mr. Depp, alleging that he defamed her when his former lawyer released statements saying her allegations of abuse were a hoax.

Many of Depp’s text messages are as colorful as Captain Jack Sparrow himself. In a message to a friend, Depp wrote that he hoped that Heard’s “rotting corpse is decomposing in the f***ing trunk of a Honda Civic.”

In 2015, texts sent to someone else—possibly Heard’s sister—Depp claimed that:

“I never ever want to lay eyes on that filthy whore Amber” and that he would “smack the ugly c**t around before I let her in.”

Depp denied in testimony that he had ever hit any woman. He also alleged that Heard had repeatedly attacked him, and had thrown a bottle at him, severing the tip of his middle finger.

Florida Texts and Divorce

I’ve written about the widespread use of texts, emails, social media and how they have increasingly become a party of family law cases.

While Depp has to authenticate his text messages to prove he wrote them, some exhibits are trustworthy, and don’t even require a witness to authenticate. The evidence code lists matters which a court must judicially notice, meaning a judge does not have discretion but to admit indisputable evidence.

The list is short and includes laws of the Congress and Florida Legislature; Florida statewide rules of court, rules of United States courts, and U.S. Supreme Court rules. Other parts of the evidence code include even more matters, but also provides judges leeway in deciding whether or not to take judicial notice. For example, the statute allows a court to take judicial notice of facts that are not subject to dispute because they are “generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the court”, and facts that are not subject to dispute because they are “capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot be questioned.”

Text messages have become a major source of evidence in modern divorce trials. People forget what they put in writing may be used against them later and are fair game in a divorce. The Depp case makes it easy to understand why.

“The worst pirate I ever heard of”

In his testimony, Depp denied he ever hit a woman. While he has alleged that Heard repeatedly attacked him, thrown a bottle at him and severed his middle finger, he testified that he would usually run away to a bedroom or a bathroom to get away from Heard when she was violent.

With very colorful text messages about his threats of violence, some are wondering why he filed a defamation case in the first place:

“Let’s drown her before we burn her!!!” Depp wrote to actor Paul Bettany in June 2013. “I will fuck her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead.” “Yes I fucked up and went too far in our fight.” “It doesn’t say physical fight,” Depp said on the stand.

Heard’s lawyer Benjamin Rottenborn also played a video that Heard had recorded, in which Depp could be seen yelling, banging things, and pouring himself a giant glass of wine.

“I did assault a couple of cabinets but I did not touch Ms. Heard.”

Depp has to prove that Heard’s comments in the Washington Post damaged his reputation. That central legal question about defamation seems like a trivial sideshow to what everyone is seeing unfold in a Virginia courtroom.

The Variety article is here.

Divorce More Likely for Stay At Home Moms

Is divorce more likely for stay at home moms? One divorce lawyer who received 1.7 million views talked about the top professions women should avoid when marrying a man. Now she is back advising people on the top jobs men should avoid when marrying a woman.

Stay at Home Mon Divorce

Again with Supply Chain?

More scientifically, in a Forbes article a while ago, the career site Zippia had reviewed Census Bureau data to figure out which jobs and industries showed the highest divorce rates for those 30 and younger.

Military jobs put the biggest strain on marriages, topping the list with a 30% divorce rate. Surprisingly, or not, rounding out the top jobs predicting divorce – all of which hovered in the 14% to 18% range – were:

  1. Supply Chain Logisticians
  2. Automotive service technicians and mechanics; and
  3. Chemical technicians

But this recent video by a divorce lawyer about stay at home moms has been getting way more attention – with over 4.1 million views of people wanting to know what profession a man should avoid in their spouse.

“The most common profession that I see in the female parties in my divorces, and this is over 13 years of cases,” she says, before nervously revealing the answer, is a stay-at-home mom.”

Being a stay-at-home parent is not easy, and many people argue that it actually should be treated as a profession where people should be paid for raising and taking care of society’s future.

Florida No Fault Divorce

I’ve written about the causes of divorce before. The official term for divorce in Florida is “dissolution of marriage”, and you don’t need fault as a ground for divorce. Florida abolished fault as a ground for divorce. So, whether your Wife is working in an office, or worse, staying at home raising the children, you don’t need to allege that as grounds for divorce.

The no-fault concept in Florida means you no longer have to prove a reason for the divorce, like your spouse’s diaper changing and cooking. Instead, you just need to state under oath that your marriage is “irretrievably broken.”

Before the no-fault divorce era, people who wanted to get divorce either had to reach agreement in advance with the other spouse that the marriage was over, or throw mud at each other and prove wrongdoing like adultery or abuse.

No-fault laws were the result of trying to change the way divorces played out in court. No fault laws have reduced the number of feuding couples who felt the need to resort to distorted facts, lies, and the need to focus the trial on who did what to whom.

What if you work remotely?

According to this, thoroughly unscientific study by one divorce lawyer with millions of views, there are many reasons why a stay-at-home mom might have one of the highest divorce rates.

“Number one: when you’re divorcing a stay-at-home mom, they are paralyzed with fear, and rightfully so, because their whole life is going to change.”

The second reason, she reveals, is simply an observation she’s made in the past and her own opinion, but relates to the first reason and that is that it’s easier for the pair to grow apart.

“The husband starts feeling like an ATM, and the wife becomes completely focused on the children.”

However, when looking at actual data by industry, there are some surprising findings. For one, the often stated claim that half of marriages end in divorce does not really pan out.

When looking broadly by industry, military marriages hovered at around a 15% divorce rate, and the other 24 industries with reported divorce rates were less than 10%. The legal, science and entertainment fields were among those at the bottom of the list, with divorce rates of about 4% or less.

In other studies, people have looked at the causes. One Kansas State University study, for example, found that arguments about money were the top predictor of divorce among both men and women — even higher than arguments about children, and staying at home.

That is why it is important that money conversations remain a priority. Schedule talks like you schedule doctors’ checkups, several times a year. And start by making sure you’re both on the same page.

The Your Tango article is here.