Author: Ron Kauffman

Divorce Strategy During the Pandemic

Divorce strategy during the pandemic is on people’s minds because, even in the best of times, marriage and relationships are hard work. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the pandemic has produced a pressure cooker inside homes, straining even strong partnerships and, experts say, likely breaking others.

divorce covid strategy

The Virus Among Us

Families are cooped up, with spouses trying to work while also taking care of their kids. Job losses, caring for at-risk elderly parents, arguments over what’s safe, and disagreements over school reopening are all taking a toll.

Susan Myres, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), which represents 1,600 members nationwide, says she expects new divorce filings to increase somewhere between 10% and 25% in the second half of this year.

Florida, unlike many state courts have been processing divorce and custody filings and are back to a manageable case flow. Many AAML member attorneys are reporting that we have received more queries than normal since the pandemic in March.

More than one-quarter of adults said they know a couple likely to break up, separate or divorce when the coronavirus pandemic ends, according to an Ipsos poll of 1,005 people conducted at the end of July.

In Charlotte, N.C., one attorney has consulted with 263 new clients on divorce issues from April to July compared with 217 clients in that same period a year ago, says Nicole Sodoma, founder and managing principal of the firm.

Summertime is usually when separating parents make the transition to two households, giving themselves time to acclimate before the school year begins. But courts have either been closed or backed up, she says, and many clients have felt stuck. “It’s added stress to an already stressful situation,” she says.

Florida Divorce

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.

I’ve written about divorce and the Coronavirus before. In order to divorce in Florida, you need to file a petition for dissolution of marriage in the family court. No grounds are necessary, such as “COVID-19” or “my house is a pressure cooker.”

The no-fault concept in Florida means you no longer have to prove a reason for the divorce. 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.

The Pressure Cooker

In some cases, tensions created from the effects of the shutdown, quarantine, and pandemic, can mount into violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline says total contacts—calls, texts and online chats—increased 9% to more than 62,000 in the period from mid-March to mid-May, compared with the same period a year earlier.

Spouses who experienced greater external stress, from work stressors to financial problems, had lower relationship satisfaction than couples with fewer external stressors.

Even in the most communicative partnerships, there is more stress. “We have a strong marriage,” says Courtney Westling, a public-schools official in Portland, Ore. “But this has not been easy.” She and her husband of seven years, Mike, have spent recent months negotiating new work spaces in their home as well as child care for their sons, ages 3 and 5.

Strategy for Stress

The Covid pandemic has put strain on households and is testing marriages and relationships. Here are a few strategies.

Keep in mind this is a unique situation. When your spouse does something that upsets you, it’s easy to veer into blaming it on some character flaw. That is not a good sign. Couples that tend to see “situational attribution,” do better.

“If I have the mentality that this is because of the situation and not my partner, that should be beneficial.”

Think twice about big relationship decisions. Clients under marital duress should take a step back and pause. Recognize that everyone is under added strain, and that a partner’s on-the-surface behavior may really be about something deeper.

Maybe what you don’t recognize is that your spouse is actually anxious about the uncertainty, maybe his job or some underlying health issue, and it causes them to act out. But that doesn’t mean it’s the end of a marriage. That’s particularly true in a relationship that had previously been solid, she says.

“Recognize that we are not living in ordinary times.”

Don’t forget to play! The world feels heavy right now, and so it is more important than ever to find joy. Take advantage of the added time with your partner to find moments to laugh and have fun. And if those moments don’t come to you, make them. You need to create moments of play.

“Go out for a run, listen to a podcast together, spend time in nature. Play is not only how children learn, but it is also how we refresh ourselves.”

Creating lighthearted moments is also a useful tool in reminding ourselves what attracted us in the first place to our partners. Remember that this is the same person, but this is just a short period in time.

The Wall Street Journal article is here.

 

Straight Outta Court

Dr Dre is wondering if his prenup will get him straight outta court. He announced that he and his wife Nicole Young are getting divorced after 24-years of marriage. Young filed for divorce from Dre, whose real name is Andre Romelle Young, citing irreconcilable differences. One of the interesting issues is whether Young signed a prenuptial agreement.

Compton

Straight Outta Compton

The couple, who married in May 1996, share two children together, son Truice, 23, and daughter Truly, 19. Dre also has four children from previous relationships, daughters Tyra Young and La Tanya Danielle Young, and sons Marcel and Curtis.

The music mogul, 55, and Young, 50, announced their split after 24 years of marriage in June, and Dre revealed that the couple, who wed in 1996, does have a prenuptial agreement, despite initial reports that indicated the two do not. Young is asking for spousal support and a division of property.

In 2019, Forbes estimated that Dre’s net worth was $800m, making him the second-wealthiest hip hop artist in the world that year. The rapper’s fortune is in part due to the success of his headphone line, Beats by Dre, which was acquired by Apple in 2014 for $3bn.

According to TMZ, Dre, who listed the date of their separation as March 27, 2020, and cited irreconcilable differences as the reason for their split, agreed to pay spousal support but says any distribution of property should be controlled by their prenuptial agreement. Young’s petition did not mention a prenup and the outlet reported that she has claimed she never signed one.

Florida Prenuptial Agreements

I’ve written about prenuptial agreements before. Prenuptial agreements are about more than just protecting yourself after your marriage. A prenuptial agreement (or “prenup” for short) is a contract between people intending to marry.

A prenup determines spousal rights when the marriage ends by death or divorce. This can be especially important for those who boldly go into fourth marriages.

If you divorce without a prenup, your property rights are determined under state law, and a spouse may have a claim to alimony while the suit for divorce is pending and after entry of a judgment. Many couples divorcing would prefer not to spend too much time litigating in family court.

That’s where prenups come in. Prospective spouses may limit or expand state laws by an agreement. Prenups are also used to protect the interests of children from a prior marriage, and to avoid a contested divorce.

There are many problems with prenuptial agreements too. If a prenuptial agreement includes any provisions that violate the law or public policy, it may automatically be deemed invalid.

Additionally, a prenuptial agreement cannot waive child support, and can’t set an amount for child support. Courts have plenary power over support issues, so child support amounts are determined by courts based on our child support guidelines.

Also, a premarital agreement may not be enforceable in a family court case, for instance, if it was not signed voluntarily; or if it was the product of fraud, duress, coercion, or overreaching.

Deez Prenups

The 55-year-old, who started his career as a member of the rap group NWA, also founded the record label Aftermath Entertainment, which previously signed Eminem and 50 Cent.

In 2015, Dre apologized to “the women I’ve hurt” following allegations of physical abuse against women, telling The New York Times:

Twenty-five years ago I was a young man drinking too much and in over my head with no real structure in my life. However, none of this is an excuse for what I did. I’ve been married for 19 years and every day I’m working to be a better man for my family, seeking guidance along the way. I’m doing everything I can so I never resemble that man again.

This divorce, given the stakes and the profiles of the parties, is expected to be completed relatively quickly and privately. Generally, anything he acquired before marriage would be his separate property, with or without a prenuptial agreement. Dre sold Beats during the marriage so there may not be a separate, or non-marital, component to it – meaning there is a very large sum of money that is at stake as marital property.

Young is going to get half of what he’s worth very likely, but while Dr. Dre has claimed he is willing to pay spousal support, Young probably won’t need spousal support after the marital estate is divided. She asked for temporary support and she may be able to get hundreds of thousands of dollars a month before the case is resolved. The couple was last seen together in public in February at the Tom Ford fashion show.

The Independent article is here.

 

Coffee Grounds for Divorce

Coffee used to be grounds for divorce in Turkey after the end of the rule of Sultan Murad IV, who had banned coffee and threw coffee drinkers into the Bosporus. Although Florida is a no-fault state, many people wonder if you still need grounds for divorce.

Coffee Grounds for Divorce

Coffee Talk

Coffee is widely regarded as the second most legally traded commodity after oil in the world today, even though coffee is not technically a commodity since it is fresh produce and its value is directly affected by the length of time it is held.

Coffee, owes its origins as a social beverage to Sufis from Yemen in the 15th century, and then it quickly spread from there throughout the Ottoman Empire. Holding a place of uncertain legality under Islam since its inception, coffee has been alternately banned and blessed depending on the tastes of the ruling government.

During the Ottoman Empire, not even the threat of penalty of death could stop the coffee drinkers of Istanbul. Sultan Murad IV launched his own attack against coffee drinkers as well as tobacco smokers. He brought back the edict about throwing coffee drinkers into the Bosporus and even took it a step further; if he found any soldiers smoking or drinking coffee on the eve of battle, he would execute them or have their limbs.

Coffee was instantly reinstated, along with tobacco use, as soon as this man met his demise. Turkish coffee has been a mainstay of Istanbul ever since to the point where, up until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, being unable to provide coffee for the household was considered sufficient grounds for a woman to divorce her husband.

Florida No Fault Divorce

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.

I’ve written about divorce and infidelity issues before. The no-fault concept in Florida means you no longer have to prove a reason for the divorce, like your husband’s allegedly failure to bring home Starbucks, or preferably, Lavazza. 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 hot coffee 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.

Another Cup of Joe

A cup of coffee can be more than a beverage–it’s a lifeline. Many people claim that they can’t wake up without their morning cup of coffee, others say that they can’t stop drinking it because caffeine is what keeps them creative.

It is not really known where the history of the coffee begins but there is the world-famous legend about Kaldi, a herdsman from Ethiopia who was the first to discover the effects of the coffee beans. According to the legend, around the year 850 AD Kaldi noticed that whenever his sheep ate the red berries that grew on a particular bush, they became excited and more energetic, to the point that they didn’t sleep at night.

Soon word of the energizing berries spread and caught the interest of the Galla tribe in Ethiopia. They invented a kind of a power bar that was prepared with clarified butter and the berry. It was the food of the warriors and it apparently made them invincible. Energizing bars based on coffee berries are still a common snack in Sidamo and Kaffa.

By the late 15th century coffee had become a common beverage in the Near East, but the Ottoman Turks had mastered the art of it. They prepared the coffee with cinnamon, anise, cardamon, and cloves. And this spicy version is still available in some places in Turkey. It is no wonder that they drink coffee after coffee when they prepare each cup with so much love and attention.

Information about coffee in the Ottoman Empire can be found here.

 

Twitter, Divorce and Privacy

Twitter, Divorce and Privacy are in the news again after Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West’s latest string of controversial statements and Twitter sprees as a result of their widely rumored divorce. The twitter battle going on makes you wonder if there is any privacy after you file for divorce.

Divorce Privacy

Runaway

Kim Kardashian West is asking people to be understanding about husband Kanye West’s bipolar issues. After Kanye West fired off another barrage of wild tweets in which he said he’s been trying to divorce Kim Kardashian, the reality star requested compassion and empathy on behalf of those living with mental illness, including her husband.

“As many of you know, Kanye has bi-polar disorder. Anyone who has this or has a loved one in their life who does, knows how incredibly complicated and painful it is to understand. Those that understand mental illness or even compulsive behavior know that the family is powerless unless the member is a minor. People who are unaware or far removed from this experience can be judgmental and not understand that the individual themselves have to engage in the process of getting help no matter how hard family and friends try.”

Her Wednesday morning response came after the “Jesus is King” rapper, 43, said he has recently been trying to divorce her in an overnight rant, which was scrubbed from Twitter just a few minutes after it was posted.

“I been trying to get divorced since Kim met with Meek at the Warldolf for ‘prison reform. Meek is my man and was respectful that’s my dog. Kim was out of line.”

It’s not clear what exactly West was referring to, but his reality star wife, who’s 39, and rapper Meek Mill both attended a criminal justice summit in November 2018.

Florida Divorce Privacy

I’ve written on divorce privacy issues before. Divorce privacy is an issue that comes up a lot. Divorces in court are public events, and the filed records of court proceedings are public records available for public examination.

Both the public and the media can challenge any closure order by a divorce court. The closure of court proceedings or records should only really occur when it’s necessary to comply with established public policy, to protect trade secrets; or to protect children in a divorce among other reasons.

Florida also has new rules protecting sensitive data from public view. This includes protecting Social Security, Bank Account, Debit, and Credit Card Numbers because if those numbers are included in a document, they may become part of the public record.

If information is absolutely required, there is a rule with procedures for sealing and unsealing of court records. Also, the Clerk of Court has the authority to redact or make confidential only specific information.

If sensitive information has already been filed in Court Records, you must complete and submit a “Notice of Confidential Information Within Court Filing” in order to remove or seal it.

I love It

In a series of tweets earlier this week, he also claimed Kardashian and her mother, Kris Jenner, were trying to lock him up for medical reasons because of comments made during a rally in South Carolina, where he launched his 2020 presidential bid.

West told the crowd during the Charleston event that he and his wife considered an abortion when she became pregnant with their first child.

Kardashian has not publicly addressed her husband’s presidential bid, but emphasized in her recent statement that “living with bipolar disorder does not diminish or invalidate his dreams and his creative ideas, no matter how big they feel to some.”

“I understand Kanye is a public figure and his actions at times can cause strong opinions and emotions. He is a brilliant but complicated person who on top of the pressure of being an artist and Black man, who experienced the painful loss of his mother, and has to deal with the pressure and isolation that is heightened by his bipolar disorder.”

Kardashian, who married West in 2014, concluded the lengthy post by calling on society to use the grace they show while discussing mental health to those “who are living with it in times they need it most.”

“I kindly ask that the media give us the compassion and empathy that is needed so that we can get through this,” she wrote. “Thank you to those who have expressed concern for Kanye’s well-being and for your understanding.”

The two have four children, North, 7, Saint, 4, Chicago, 2 and Pslam, 14 months.

The New York Daily News article is here.

Photo by David Shankbone – Own work, CC BY 3.0

Marriage, Pot, and Divorce

Marriage, pot, and divorce have become issues family courts have been dealing with as marijuana laws change across the country. But this post discusses something else entirely, the marriage of a woman to an actual clay pot.

Pot Divorce

Kumbha Vivah

In the New York Times, a Hindu writer living in Hong Kong writes about her big wedding day . . . to a clay pot.

“From here on, it’s me and Mr. Pot. Mr. Pot and I. He’s curvaceous. I’m just nervous.”

In India, fate or destiny is not just inescapable, but a rational scapegoat for the bad times and a benevolent provider for the good times. In every Indian city, fortune tellers set up shop, there are universities dedicated to astrological understanding, and TV shows of gurus fielding viewers’ burning questions about the stars.

When a boy or girl is facing the misfortune of “manglik dosha” in their horoscope, one of the only spiritual solutions is Kumbh Vivah – the process of marrying a ceramic pot to remove any bad karma. Kumbh Vivah is a real solution for any aspiring young manglik wishing to marry.

According to one New York Times writer’s astrological chart, Mars occupied her house for love and marriage. And that, in Vedic astrology, made her “manglik,” or Mars cursed! Problem was, she fell in love with a non-manglik, and her parents refused to let her marry him. There was one imperfect solution:

kumbh vivah: marry a ceramic pot instead.

Florida, Pot, and Divorce

Marriage, pot, and divorce frequently come up in Florida too, but usually not the ceramic variety. I have written about the use of marijuana and how it can impact your custody case. No data exist to show how often marijuana use comes up in custody disputes, or how often child welfare workers intervene in homes where marijuana is used.

But in dozens of interviews, the consensus is clear: marijuana’s growing acceptance is complicating the task of determining when kids are in danger.

Medical marijuana implementation plans are being introduced and discussed in legislatures around the country. Florida’s Amendment 2 expanded the previously limited Florida medical marijuana law.

Florida has not legalized recreational marijuana. Many states and the District of Columbia currently have laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form. Seven states and the District of Columbia have adopted the most expansive laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

Most recently, California passed a measure in legalizing recreational marijuana use the way Colorado considers marijuana use legal. Marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I controlled substance, like heroin, under federal law.

Whether you are a parent with a medical marijuana prescription, the analysis of whether your custody case can be impacted by smoking pot will depend on the facts and circumstances of your case. There is no hard and fast rule for the use of medical marijuana by parents involved in a custody dispute.

A Match Made in a Kiln

If a person is advised to perform a Kumbha Vivah wedding, they are taught the ceremony is like a real wedding, but there is no need to call friends and guests. This is typically a private and closed marriage ceremony which the bride (or vase) is going to end soon.

They are not very expensive either, which is helpful as wedding costs have skyrocketed. The approximate cost of a Kumbha Vivah is 7000 Indian Rupees, about $93. But the mantras and procedures are similar to a real marriage.

In Bali, the New York Times writer held Mr. Pot in her hands, and when the prayers ended, stood up together, and walked outside the temple to a quiet, deserted space.

And then I smashed my new husband into the ground, shattering him into tiny pieces!

The thinking is that the pot represents a husband who would be the reason why things are destined to go wrong. Divorce, by smashing the clay pot, symbolizes the end of that ill-fated marriage. Ostensibly, the curse is lifted and the manglik can marry the man they want.

Eight months later, she married her real husband under the blue skies of Bali, surrounded by gleaming family and friends. They walked around a fire, exchanged vows and danced all night. Most important, the parents delightfully embraced her husband.

She has been happily married for four years. Make of that what you wish.

The New York Times article is here.

*Photo credit Alicia Nijdam – Flickr: Gaurav and Anu’s wedding, CC BY 2.0

Calculating Alimony with De Niro’s Dinero

Calculating alimony with Robert DeNiro’s dinero is what is turning up the heat in his divorce. His wife, Grace Hightower, is seeking temporary alimony and has asked for an emergency order to raise her monthly credit card limit from $50,000 to $100,000 – which De Niro halved.

Alimony Calculation

Raging Bull?

In their response, De Niro’s lawyers claimed that the actor’s financial status had been significantly damaged by Covid-19 after restaurants Nobu and Greenwich Hotel, which he owns stakes in, were forced to close.

The judge was told that, as well as sushi restaurant Nobu losing $4.87m between April and May, De Niro had been forced to borrow from business partners to pay investors ($500,000) because “he doesn’t have the cash”.

The actor’s lawyers said: “He is going to be lucky if he makes $7.5m this year,” adding that he would likely make $2.5m in 2020 and 2021!

Addressing Hightower, they said: “These people, in spite of his robust earnings, have always spent more than he has earned so this 76-year-old robust man couldn’t retire even if he wanted to because he can’t afford to keep up with his lifestyle expense”.

Hightower’s lawyer is calling it raging bull: “I’m not a believer that a man who has an admitted worth of $500m and makes $30m a year, all of a sudden in March he needs to cut down by 50% and ban her from the house.

Florida Alimony

I’ve written about subject of alimony in Florida. In every Florida dissolution of marriage case, the court can grant alimony to either party – husband or wife.

Not many people realize there are several types of alimony in Florida: bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational, or 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.

In determining whether to award alimony or not, the court has to first make a determination as to whether a wife or a husband, has an actual need for alimony, and whether the other party has the ability to pay alimony.

As DeNiro’s wife is discovering, proving the ability to pay is one of the central issues in her divorce right now because DeNiro’s income, it is claimed, dropped significantly due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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:

  • The standard of living established during the marriage.
  • The duration of the marriage.
  • The age and the physical and emotional condition of each party.
  • The financial resources of each party, including the nonmarital and the marital assets and liabilities distributed to each.
  • The earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties and, when applicable, the time necessary for either party to acquire sufficient education or training to enable such party to find appropriate.

But, after establishing Hightower’s need for alimony, how much dinero is there to determine De Niro’s ability to pay?

Analyze This…

The Supreme Court justice ruled that De Niro should keep the lower credit card limit while paying Hightower $75,000 to find a summer home for their children. De Niro filed from divorce from Hightower in 2018.

Robert De Niro’s attorneys said that the actor’s finances have taken a huge hit over the course of the coronavirus pandemic. The actor is battling a divorce case against Grace Hightower, his ex-wife who he was with for 21 years, in Manhattan Supreme Court.

De Niro appeared via Skype at an emergency hearing, which was called after De Niro cut Hightower’s American Express credit card limit from $100,000 to $50,000 a month.

According to the Daily Mail, Hightower’s lawyer told the judge that she and her two children with De Niro, Harvey (8) and Elliot (21), had been banned from his New York compound, which is where De Niro has been staying during the pandemic.

However, De Niro’s lawyer, Caroline Krauss, reportedly told the judge that De Niro was forced to make this cut to Hightower’s credit card limit because his finances have been so badly affected by the pandemic.

Krauss told the judge that Nobu and The Greenwich Hotel, the restaurant chain and hotel that De Niro owns, have both been badly hit by the pandemic as they have been closed or partially closed for months with next to no income.

Krauss said that the 2004 prenuptial agreement between De Niro and Hightower means that De Niro is only required to pay $1 million a year to Hightower as long as he is making at least $15 million a year. The terms, Krauss said, state that if his income falls, hers will proportionately fall too.

Krauss said that the money De Niro has earned from last year’s “The Irishman” has largely already been paid out, meaning he will only receive $2.5 million this year.

“These people, in spite of his robust earnings, have always spent more than he has earned so this 76-year-old robust man couldn’t retire even if he wanted to because he can’t afford to keep up with his lifestyle expense.

In response, Page Six reported that Hightower’s lawyer, Kevin McDonough, told the judge: “Mr. De Niro has used the COVID pandemic, my words would be, to stick it to his wife financially.

“I’m not a believer that a man who has an admitted worth of $500 million and makes $30 million a year, all of a sudden in March he needs to cut down [spousal support] by 50 percent and ban her from the house.”

McDonough said that “the idea that Mr. De Niro is tightening his belt is nonsense.” The judge issued a temporary ruling that the credit card limit is kept at $50,000 a month, but that De Niro pays Hightower a $75,000 lump sum so she can find a summer home for her and their two children, while De Niro stays in his compound with his other three children.

De Niro and Hightower were married in 1997 but filed for divorce two years later. However, their divorce never finalized, and they patched things up and renewed their vows in 2004. They officially separated in 2018.

The Insider article is here.

Photo credit: David Shankbone – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Unequal Distribution in an Unequal World

There may be an unequal distribution in an unequal world, after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s wife filed for divorce. She is asking for the couple’s two homes in their divorce. She might just be able to walk away with them if he doesn’t contest her request pretty soon.

Unequal Distribution

Uncommon Loons

Kellie Chauvin came to the U.S. as a child refugee from Laos. The couple met at the hospital she used to work at when Chauvin brought a suspect in for a health check. They later married on June 12, 2010, in Washington County.

She filed for divorce two days after her husband was charged with murder and manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd, who died after then-officer Chauvin planted his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes as Floyd lay in handcuffs.

The homes are only one part of a marital estate, and without understanding what the other person is being awarded outside of the homes, [the divorce petition] is not actually telling you whether this person is asking for more than 50 percent.

Derek Chauvin, had 30 days from the date he received notice of the divorce petition to file an answer and counter-petition if he wanted to challenge any of his wife’s proposals. That expired Friday.

If no answer and counter-petition are filed by the 30-day deadline, a petitioner can wait a period of time and ask a judge to proceed by default, which could grant what was requested.

Florida Unequal Distribution

I have written about property division, called “equitable distribution” in Florida, before. Florida, like Minnesota, is an equitable distribution state when it comes to dividing houses and other marital properties in divorce.

That means that in a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, in addition to all other remedies available to a court to do equity between the parties, a court must set apart to each spouse that spouse’s non-marital assets and liabilities.

When distributing the marital assets between spouses, a family court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution based on all relevant factors.

However, if there is a justification for an unequal distribution, as in the Work divorce, the court must base the unequal distribution on certain factors, including: the contribution to the marriage by each spouse; the economic circumstances of the parties, the duration of the marriage, or any interrupting of personal careers or education.

Additionally, courts can consider the contribution of each spouse to the acquisition, enhancement, and production of income or the improvement of, or the incurring of liabilities to, both the marital assets and the nonmarital assets of the parties.

However, courts generally can’t base an unequal distribution on one spouse’s disproportionate financial contributions to the marriage unless there is a showing of some “extraordinary services over and above the normal marital duties.”

Land of Lakes

Kellie Chauvin, a former Realtor who was unemployed when she filed the petition, requested a “fair and equitable division” of personal property, vehicles and all bank, retirement and investment accounts. She neither sought nor offered alimony payments.

She asked for sole ownership of their primary home in Oakdale and a townhouse in Windermere, Fla., which were both bought after they married in 2010 and are listed in both of their names.

The Chauvins bought the Oakdale house in 2017 for $260,000. It is now valued at $273,800, according to Washington County property records. They bought the Florida townhouse in 2011 for $210,900; property records put the value last year as $226,282.

Outstanding mortgages and equity, which were not addressed in the divorce petition, are key in determining whether acquiring both homes would be a financial boon, but it’s not unusual for such petitions to be vague, and for exact property appraisals and financial accounting to be determined at a later date.

Derek Chauvin’s pension from his 19-year career at the police department could also factor in the division of assets. The pension was not specifically addressed in the petition. Chauvin, who was fired days after Floyd’s death, has not begun collecting his pension so its gross value has not yet been determined. Once it has, it will be public information.

Defaulting in a divorce is rare, but people do regularly miss the deadline to respond for a number of common reasons, including financial problems, mental health issues and other life events. And right now, Derek Chauvin has bigger things to worry about, and is due in court Sept. 11 for a hearing in the criminal case.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune article is here.

Photo credit John Picken from Chicago, USA / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

 

Greener Grass and the Marriage Length

Greener Grass and the marriage length come to mind now that country singer, Carly Pearce, filed for divorce from fellow country star Michael Ray after a startling eight-month marriage. What does the length of a marriage mean in a divorce?

Divorce Length Marriage

It Won’t Always Be Like This

Their wedding took place on a farm outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Located on 40 rolling acres, the venue features a 19th-century mansion, three barns and a pavilion. Though the couple had hoped for an outdoor wedding, the weather didn’t oblige. All-day rainstorms drove the ceremony into one of the farm’s barns.

While her whimsical wedding was nothing short of a fairytale, eight months later, the 30-year-old singer filed for divorce from Michael. Pearce is an American country music singer and songwriter. Her material contains elements of both traditional and contemporary country-pop music.

She began performing professionally in her teens, appearing on several albums of bluegrass material in the 2000s. After moving to Nashville, Tennessee, she began gaining more widespread notice.

She first gained major recognition in 2017 when her self-penned “Every Little Thing” found acclaim on satellite radio. The song helped her secure a major label recording contract and became a major hit, reaching number one on the Billboard Country Airplay chart.

Her debut album of the same name debuted in the top five of the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. Pearce has since released new material, including the 2019 single, “I Hope You’re Happy Now”.

Pearce released her second studio album, “Carly Pearce,” in February. Her duet with Lee Brice, “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” recently topped the Billboard country charts.

As recently as March, the couple appeared to be spending time together in quarantine. Pearce posted a selfie of her and her husband hanging out in lockdown.

Florida Marriage Length

I’ve written about divorce and the length of a marriage before. Florida Statutes actually define what the length of your marriage means. For example, in order to determine alimony, there is a rebuttable presumption in Florida that a short-term marriage is a marriage having a duration of less than 7 years.

Florida Statutes define a moderate-term marriage as a marriage having a duration of greater than 7 years but less than 17 years. And, a long-term marriage is a marriage having a duration of 17 years or greater.

How do you measure the marriage term? In Florida, the length of your marriage is the period of time measured from the date of your marriage until the date of filing of an action to dissolve your marriage.

In the Pearce case, an eight-month marriage would be considered “short-term” under Florida law. Is there short-term alimony for a short-term marriage? The Length of the marriage is very important when it comes to determining the kind of duration of alimony payments.

For example, permanent alimony is generally for longer term marriages if the statutory criteria are met. In shorter term marriages and for moderate term marriages, permanent alimony may be considered, but the burden of proof is much higher.

Conversely, bridge-the-gap alimony is generally awarded to allow a person to transition from being married to being single. So, bridge-the-gap alimony is designed for short-term needs. In fact, the length of an award bridge-the-gap alimony may not exceed 2 years.

Durational alimony helps provide a person with economic help for a set period of time after short or moderate length marriages or following a marriage of long duration if there is no ongoing need for support on a permanent basis.

The length of your marriage also factors in to property divisions. When a court divides the marital assets and debts, the court begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal. One of the factors a court can look to in justifying an unequal distribution includes the duration of the marriage.

“Love Has No Heart”

In April, the pair exchanged sweet birthday messages on Instagram.

“Happy Birthday to this guy, who also happens to be celebrating a Top 20 single this week (PROUD)! Of all the photos I have, I chose this one because I miss getting these secret selfies from guitar solos during your shows. What a crazy time, but I’m thankful to have you to go through it with. I hope this year is your best yet and brings you happiness, fun & enjoyment in life. Love you.”

Ray also wished his wife a happy birthday in April on Instagram.

There is so much going on around us but today it gets put on hold to celebrate your heart and you as a beautiful human. You ended your 20s with Platinum and gold singles you’re an inspiration tink and what a way to close it out. Now 30 it’s gonna be a decade that elevates all of life even higher. Hope you feel all the love you deserve today because you deserve it!”

In recent months, though, photos of the couple together became less frequent on social media. Pearce and Ray have not commented publicly on the reason for their split.

The Tennessean article is here.

 

Da Vinci Code meets the Family Code: Setting Aside a Settlement Agreement

The Da Vinci Code meets the Family Code as popular author Dan Brown’s ex-wife has filed a claim to set aside their settlement agreement – after their divorce ended – and sued him for money damages. The inferno in New Hampshire will deal with fraudulent financial affidavits and other claims to set aside a marital settlement agreement.

Setting Aside Agreements

Deception Point

In a lawsuit filed this week, Blythe Brown is suing Dan Brown for misrepresenting the couple’s wealth in a sworn financial affidavit he signed as part of their divorce agreement, and for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Author Dan Brown, is a New Hampshire native. He is best known for his thriller novels, including the Robert Langdon novels Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol, Inferno, and Origin. His novels are treasure hunts that usually take place over a period of 24 hours. They feature recurring themes of cryptography, art, and conspiracy theories.

Dan Brown’s books have been translated into 57 languages and, as of 2012, have sold over 200 million copies. Three of them, Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, and Inferno, have been made into films.

He is being sued by his ex-wife, who now claims he engaged in “unlawful and egregious conduct” that amounted to a “proverbial life of lies” during the last several years of their marriage.

In the lawsuit filed in New Hampshire, Blythe Brown alleges that the 56-year-old author, to whom she was married from 1997 until last December, “secretly siphoned” off vast sums of money “to conduct sordid, extra-marital affairs” with women, including a Dutch horse trainer on whom he lavished extravagant gifts.

According to the former wife the lawsuit is about standing up for myself and asserting my self-worth. I have continually tried to absorb the shocking truth withheld during our divorce that Dan had been leading a double life for years during our marriage, all while coming home to me.

Florida Marital Settlement Agreements

I have written on the topic of agreements before. In Florida, different types of agreements are treated differently. A prenuptial agreement, for example would be covered under the Premarital Agreement Act.

An agreement reached, not before a marriage like a prenup, but after divorce case has already been filed, is treated with a different standard.

That’s because after a couple become involved in full-fledged litigation over divorce property and alimony rights, they are necessarily dealing at arm’s length and without any kind of special fiduciary relationship of un-estranged marital parties or single people.

In cases like the Brown case, which involved a stipulated settlement agreement made in the course of what was likely fierce divorce litigation, a former spouse challenging a litigated settlement agreement is limited to showing fraud, misrepresentation or coercion. Any kind of inquiry into the “unreasonableness” or “unfairness” of the settlement agreement to either party is usually not permitted.

Angels and Demons

Blythe also claimed credit for inspiring much of his work and coming up with the premise for “The Da Vinci Code.” She also alleged that Brown hid scores of future projects worth “millions” from her, including a television series as well as a children’s book due out in September.

The most explosive allegations, however, are the extramarital affairs. Describing Brown’s behavior as “unlawful and egregious,” Brown said she only learned about it after the pair divorced in 2019 after 21 years of marriage.

She accuses the best-selling author of secretly diverting funds to pay for gifts to an unnamed horse trainer, including several Friesian horses and financing for his lover’s horse training business. She alleges the “illegal behavior” took place in New Hampshire, Europe and the Caribbean.

“Dan has lived a proverbial life of lies for at least the past six years, seeming to be the epitome of a world-famous novelist leading a simple life in his home state of New Hampshire, while in reality he was something quite different,” the lawsuit claims.

For years, she alleges, that Dan has secretly removed substantial funds from his and Blythe’s hard-earned marital assets to conduct sordid, extra-marital affairs with women — one half his age — and to pursue a clandestine life.

Dan Brown, in a statement, said he was “stunned” by the allegations and called the complaint “written without regard for the truth.” He said he never misled his ex-wife on their finances during their divorce and that she ended up with half their holdings after they divorced.

“For reasons known only to her and possibly her lawyer, Blythe Brown has created through this suit a fictional and vindictive account of aspects of our marriage designed to hurt and embarrass me.”

Blythe Brown, a horse enthusiast who is involved in horse and carriage driving competitions, insisted she was only filing the lawsuit to stand up for herself and assert her “self-worth.”

In her lawsuit, Blythe Brown portrayed herself as inspiring Brown to give up songwriting after the pair met in 1990 and recognizing his “unlimited potential as a writer of fiction.” She also alleges she helped craft key themes and ideas for many of his books, “served as lead researcher, first-line editor, and critic, and was Dan’s literary partner in the fullest sense.”

“Indeed, Blythe and Dan formed a partnership in the literary world that was to last for nearly thirty years, taking them places that they could never have imagined,” according to the lawsuit, in which she seeks unspecified damages.

During a 2006 trial against the publisher of the “The Da Vinci Code,” the court heard how Blythe Brown was an essential contributor to his million-selling historical thriller.

Two authors unsuccessfully sued, claiming that Brown “appropriated the architecture” of their book in a high-profile London court case.

According to witness statements and court testimony, Blythe Brown led the massive research effort, supplied countless notes and suggestions and offered an invaluable “female perspective” for a book immersed in “the sacred feminine.”

In a statement, Dan Brown told the Globe he’s “stunned” that his ex-wife is “making false claims” and says he was fair and truthful in their divorce settlement. On the day that Blythe and I married, I never remotely thought that we eventually would grow so far apart.

The Boston Globe article is here.

 

Free Speech and Family Law Clash

Free speech and family law clash again, as a Florida appellate court rules on just how far a judge can go in restraining an online stalker of a politician. Like the plot of Tiger King gone wrong, a Broward state senator filed an injunction against a convicted sex offender who also happens to be a public advocate on behalf of registered sex offenders.

Free Speech Family Law

Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin Redux

Lauren Frances Book is a Florida State Senator who also runs a non-profit called “Lauren’s Kids” to assist survivors of sexual abuse and to prevent its occurrence. Because of her own childhood experience as a victim, she has been an advocate for laws that support and maintain sex offender registries, and place residency restrictions on convicted offenders.

Derek Logue, like the senator, is also a public figure of sorts. After he was convicted of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl in 2001, he co-founded what is described as the Anti-Registry Movement – which opposes sex offender laws.

Channeling “Joe Exotic” and “Carol Baskin”, Logue travels to, organizes, and participates in various demonstrations and counter-demonstrations around the nation opposing the type of sex offender laws for which the senator advocates. He also has Facebook and Twitter accounts and internet websites. One website is “Floridians for Freedom: Ron and Lauren Book Exposed.”

Sen. Book has complained about Logue’s online comments:

“I think I found the official Laura Ahearn/ Lauren Book theme song” next to a link to a YouTube video for a song titled, “You Are A C—,” by Australian singer and comedian Kat McSnatch:

“Why don’t you shut that scabby c— mouth before I f— up your face.” The crude video also features an image of a tombstone that reads, “R.I.P. Annoying C—.”

On his website as well as other social media platforms he uploaded a picture of the senator’s home along with her address; a video for a song containing an obscene title, with lyrics that are “Not Safe For Work” posted on his Twitter page and a cartoon depicting a headstone with a vulgar insult and the phrase, “Died of Natural Causes.”

Sen. Book filed an injunction claiming she fears for her and her family’s safety following physical threats Logue allegedly made against her online and in person during two public events in 2015 and 2016. She wants to keep him from coming within 500 feet of her home and her offices.

The trial court granted the injunction without identifying which of the various occurrences supported it.

Florida Free Speech and Family Law

I’ve written about free speech in family cases before. Family courts have a lot of power to protect children, and that can involve restraints on free speech. Speech can also be enjoined under our domestic violence laws. In Florida, the term “domestic violence” has a very specific meaning, and it is more inclusive than most people realize.

It means any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member.

It can also mean cyberstalking. A person 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, a felony of the third degree.

A credible threat means a verbal or nonverbal threat, or a combination of the two, including threats delivered by electronic communication or implied by a pattern of conduct, which places the person who is the target of the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family members or individuals closely associated with the person, and which is made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat to cause such harm.

Tiger King 2

Logue appealed, saying his actions served a legitimate purpose advocating against legislation affecting sex offenders, his social media posts don’t constitute “a course of conduct directed at a specific person” and the senator’s subjective fear does not satisfy the objective “reasonable person” standard required by the statute.

The court found that here, although the posting of the vulgar song may have been directed at the senator, and was certainly intended to be insulting, it was not credibly or objectively threatening. Even if it were, an injunction is not the appropriate remedy.

The case presented an issue that goes to the foundation of our country— freedom of expression under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. While the senator was irritated by Logue’s actions, the Constitution protects the right of the political irritant to voice his opinions as much as it protects any citizen’s right to do so.

Publicly expressing anger toward an elected official is not a basis for entry of an injunction. In public debate, elected officials must tolerate insulting remarks—even angry, outrageous speech—to provide breathing room for the First Amendment.

Courts have acknowledged that what may be actionable in the context of interactions between private individuals are viewed differently in the context of political debate by public actors. Because the senator is a public figure and not a private citizen what constitutes harassment, credible threats, or even defamation against her is different.

The opinion is available here.