A Strange New World of Equitable Distribution

Divorce typically involves dividing up the marital property. Every case can be different in what there is for equitable distribution. Houses and retirement accounts are pretty common, and collectible cards and dolls are rarer, but actor William Shatner’s divorce involved something truly strange: horse semen.

Equitable Distrib Horse Semen

To Seek Out New Life

Actor, William Shatner, famous for his role as captain of the Star Trek Enterprise, was recently awarded horse breeding equipment in his divorce settlement with ex-wife Elizabeth Shatner.

The actor’s divorce was settled in Los Angeles Superior Court Tuesday, according to court records. They separated from one another in February 2019.

But the most interesting part of the former “Star Trek” actor’s divorce is what he wanted as equitable distribution. Shatner, who is a horse breeder, will get “all horse semen” as a part of the settlement.

Wine, pets, antique rifles, baseball cards, sports memorabilia are some of the more unique “assets” many of my cases involved. Like any important asset, horses can be a challenging asset to divide.

Valuation of horses can requires knowing their training, winnings, and earnings. Horse ownership also requires knowing the horse’s board, routine maintenance, insurance costs, breeding rights, showing rights, and cash earnings from breed organizations.

Interestingly, the horse’s frozen semen is often extremely valuable and must be spelled out in any divorce order or agreement along with rights to any potential offspring.

That’s because a horse’s DNA and cloning are big topics in the horse industry. The issue of equitable distribution is also complicated by the fact that it is not just the rights to a horse but also the rights to the horse’s DNA, and the rights to any cloning of the horse.

Florida Equitable Distribution

Does a family court have to distribute horse semen? I have written about property division, called “equitable distribution” in Florida, before. Florida is an equitable distribution state when it comes to dividing business assets 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.

Boldly Going Where Few Men Have Gone Before

As additional equitable distribution, the Shatners divided their four horses between them. The captain will get “Renaissance Man’s Medici” and “Powder River Shirley”, while his ex-wife will get “Belle Reve’s So Photogenic” and “Pebbles”.

This is not the first horse semen rodeo for Shatner. He was sued in 2003 by ex-wife Marcy Lafferty Shatner, who claimed he violated the equitable distribution settlement in their 1995 divorce that allowed her one breeding privilege per calendar year with their American saddlebred stallions.

William and Elizabeth Shatner also divided their homes, including a home in Versailles, Kentucky that Elizabeth will get. In 2018, Shatner tweeted that he only visits his Kentucky home “once or twice a year.” But perhaps now it’s his old Kentucky home.

William and Elizabeth Shatner raised and trained American saddlebreds at their Versailles farm. He had homes in Kentucky, including Lexington, since the mid-1980s.

The couple will not receive any financial support from one another as a part of the settlement. They were married for 18 years.

The Lexington Herald Leader article is here.

 

Home in Milan: International Child Custody and the Hague

Last week, the Supreme Court decided a big international child custody case. The decision involved a baby brought here from Milan by her American Mother after her marriage to her Italian husband ended. At issue, where the baby’s ‘habitual residence’ is under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction – Italy or here.

Hague Milan Child Custody

An Italian Drama

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is a treaty that requires a child wrongfully removed from his or her country of “habitual residence” be returned to that country.

A removal is “wrongful” if it is done in violation of the custody laws of the country of the child’s habitual residence. The Convention requires that the countries signing the treaty “use the most expeditious proceedings available” to return the child to his or her habitual residence.

The mother, Michelle Monasky, a U.S. citizen, brought her infant daughter to Ohio from Milan, Italy after her Italian husband, Domenico Taglieri, allegedly became physically abusive. Taglieri asked a U.S. court to order the daughter’s returned under the Hague Convention.

The father argued that Italy was the daughter’s “habitual residence.” The district court agreed, finding that the parents had a “shared intention” to raise their daughter in Italy. An appellate panel affirmed, but in a divided opinion.

The Mother asked the Supreme Court to decide the matter, and it did.

International Child Custody and the Hague

I have written and spoken on international custody and child abduction cases under the Hague Convention.

The Convention’s mission is basic: to return children “to the State of their habitual residence” to require any custody disputes to be resolved in that country, and to discourage parents from taking matters into their own hands by abducting a child.

The key inquiry in many Hague Convention cases, and the dispositive inquiry in the Taglieri case, goes to the country of the child’s habitual residence. Habitual residence marks the place where a person customarily lives.

Many people don’t realize it, but the Hague Convention does not actually define the key term ‘habitual residence.’ There are a couple of ways to determine it. The primary way looks to the place where the child has become “acclimatized.” The back-up inquiry for young children too young to become acclimatized looks to where the parents intend their child to live.

Not abducted children

Under the Tuscan Sun

The Supreme Court affirmed the two lower courts and ordered the child returned to Italy, albeit five years later. The Court rejected the Mother’s argument that you need an “actual agreement” to determine habitual residence, and held that a child’s habitual residence depends on a totality-of-the-circumstances.

The Court noted that the Hague Convention does not define “habitual residence,” but relied on the Convention’s text, its negotiation and drafting history, and decisions from the courts.

The Hague Convention’s text alone does not definitively tell us what makes a child’s residence sufficiently enduring to be deemed “habitual.” It surely does not say that habitual residence depends on an actual agreement between a child’s parents.

No single fact, however, is dispositive across all cases. Common sense suggests that some cases will be straightforward: Where a child has lived in one place with her family indefinitely, that place is likely to be her habitual residence.

Relying on foreign law, the U.S. Supreme Court found that there was a “clear trend” among our treaty partners to treat the determination of habitual residence as a fact-driven inquiry into the particular circumstances of the case.

The U.S. Supreme Court also resolved a circuit split, and held that a trial court’s habitual-residence determination is primarily a question of fact, entitled to clear-error appellate review. The Court declined to remand for further fact finding, noting that the parties had not identified any additional facts that the district court did not already have an opportunity to consider during the four-day bench trial.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision is available here.

International Divorce on the Rise in Turkey

Fewer people in Turkey got married in 2019 while more filed for divorce as compared to the previous year, said the Turkish Statistical Institute recently. Because many foreign spouses are involved in Turkish divorces, these statistics raise international divorce issues.

Turkey international divorce

What’s Cooking in Turkey

Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country governed by secular laws. Women have equal rights to property and are eligible for alimony after divorce. But Turkey’s conservative Justice and Development Party has pushed a strong family values agenda.

Turkey provides incentives for married couples such as a tax break, and women who work part-time can get subsidized childcare. Despite such measures — and to the government’s dismay — the rate of marriage has declined by 27 percent.

Divorce — though originally sanctioned more than 1,400 years ago by Islamic law — is still widely viewed in Muslim societies as a subversive act that breaks up the family.

Women who seek divorce can often find themselves ostracized and treated as immoral. Despite such taboos and restrictions, however, divorce rates are rising across Islamic countries, even in ultra-conservative places like Afghanistan.

Turkey, in particular, is seeing a record number of divorces, as both women and men are looking for a way out of unhappy and sometimes abusive marriages. Over the past 15 years, the divorce rate has risen from under 15 percent of marriages to nearly a quarter of them.

Domestic violence is almost always cited as a leading reason by Turkish women seeking a divorce. This is true even outside urban areas, which have also seen a slight growth in divorce cases; increasingly, women are willing to seek divorces in smaller, religious towns such as Konya, in central Anatolia, where Nebiye was raised. More of these girls and women also now have access to education and online information.

Florida International Divorce

International divorce often brings up the issue of jurisdiction. Who sues whom, how do you sue for divorce, and in what country are problems in an international divorce case? The answers are more difficult than people think as I have written before.

A British divorce might give more money because British courts can disregard prenuptial agreements, and the cost of living is high in London. However, in Florida, the outcome could be different still.

Rules about children and hiding assets is a problem in every divorce, especially in international cases. The problem of discovery of hidden wealth is even bigger in an international divorce because multiple countries, and multiple rules on discovery, can be involved.

The problems in an international divorce are more complicated because hiding assets from a spouse is much easier in some countries than in others.

Florida, at one extreme, requires complete disclosure of assets and liabilities. In fact, in Florida certain financial disclosure is mandatory. At the other extreme, are countries which require very little disclosure from people going through divorce.

Choosing possible countries to file your divorce in can be construed as “forum shopping”. The European Union introduced a reform called Brussels II, which prevents “forum shopping”, with a rule that the first court to be approached decides the divorce. But the stakes are high: ending up in the wrong legal system, or with the wrong approach, may mean not just poverty but misery.

Residency for divorce is a very important jurisdictional requirement in every case. Generally, the non-filing party need not be a resident in the state in order for the court to divorce the parties under the divisible divorce doctrine. The court’s personal jurisdiction over the non-filing spouse is necessary only if the court enters personal orders regarding the spouse.

The durational domicile or residency requirement goes to the heart of the court’s ability to divorce the parties, because the residency of a party to a divorce creates a relationship with the state to justify its exercise of power over the marriage.

Well Done Turkey

According to government statistics, the number of couples who got married was 554,389 in 2018, and 541,424 in 2019, decreasing 2.3 percent. The crude marriage rate – the number of marriages per thousand population – was 0.656 percent in 2019, down from 0.681 percent in 2018.

Age difference at first marriage between male and female was 3 years. The province having the highest mean age difference at first marriage was the northeastern province of Kars with 4.5 years.

TÜİK also gave data on the proportion of marriage with foreign partners of total marriages, saying the proportion of foreign brides rose, while it fell for grooms.

The number of foreign brides was 23,264 in 2019, 4.3 percent of total brides. Syrian women topped the foreign brides with 14.5 percent, followed by Azerbaijani brides with 11.7 percent and German brides with 10.5 percent.

On the other hand, the number of foreign grooms was 4,580 in 2019, 0.8 percent of total grooms,” it noted. When analyzed by citizenship, German grooms took first place, accounting for 34.1 percent of the overall figure. German grooms were followed by Syrian grooms with 13.1 percent and Austrian grooms with 7.8 percent.

The Hurriyet Daily News article is here.

 

This is Your Reno Divorce

In the 1950’s you had to prove grounds for divorce, with no guarantee that a court would grant one. States that granted divorce recognized grounds that were nearly impossible to prove, such as physical evidence of abuse. No wonder so many people opted to go to Reno instead: the “divorce capital of the world.”

Reno Divorce

The biggest little city in the world

In Reno, Nevada, local laws allowed people to establish residency in a mere six weeks, and then expect a rubber-stamp divorce decree no matter the circumstances of their split.

The practice of seeking divorce in Reno dates back to the early 20th century, when the city shrewdly built lodging and entertainment steps from its courthouse, drawing a steady flow of “divorce tourists” looking to escape the East Coast press.

By the 1950s, by which time Reno’s divorce laws had further loosened, a thriving economy had evolved for the sole purpose of meeting divorcees’ needs while they waited — and, indeed, Reno relied on the divorce trade to keep her coffers full.

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 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 alleged infidelity with a congresswoman. 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.

Back in the Silver State

The first divorce boom occurred right after World War II, with rates decreasing in the 1950s before beginning to rise again. The reason for post-war divorces was women getting a taste of independence while their husbands were away fighting.

The decline of the divorce rate in the 1950s owes to the idealization of the nuclear family, with rigid gender roles assigning women responsibility for staying home and raising children.

That the majority of Reno divorce-seekers were women reflects the fact that men had jobs that kept them home, though many women found work in Reno, either by choice or necessity.

New arrivals found an atmosphere of relaxed morals, where they might try their hand in a card room or go to a tavern unaccompanied by a man. Hotels and ranches offered full calendars of entertainment including roulette lessons, singalongs, live music performances and even bawdy shows.

A crop of male “drivers” made themselves available to escort the well-to-do, often partying with them long into the night. Dancing and flirting were the norm in many establishments, liquor was readily available and women’s inhibitions often vanished, especially since the system itself seemed to run on a winking disregard for social and even legal censure.

By the early 1950s, the days of casual acceptance were numbered: The Cold War brought homophobia, transphobia and a police clampdown on suspect activities, including a ban on cross-dressing performances.

An early bill to change divorce law was penned by women and published in the Women Lawyers Journal in 1952, proposing that a divorce should be granted when a court finds:

“that there is no reasonable possibility of reconciliation … and that the welfare of [the husband, wife, and children, if any] will be promoted by the divorce.”

In the years that followed, no fault laws began to change across the country. Eventually, there was no need to go to Reno to end a marriage, and Reno’s reputation faded — but it hasn’t been very long since splitting from one’s spouse could most easily be accomplished by an adventure in Reno.

The Time article is here.

 

Devil’s Tower: Return to a Fault Based Divorce

Is divorce too easy? Some South Dakota lawmakers are trying, but recently failed in their effort, to pass a bill that would have eliminated no fault divorce, removed a common reason used by married couples seeking divorce, and make the whole process more difficult.

Devils Tower Divorce

The Mt. Rushmore of Divorce Law

Under South Dakota law, a divorce may be granted for any of the following grounds: adultery, extreme cruelty (including bodily injury or grievous mental suffering), willful desertion, willful neglect, habitual intemperance, conviction of a felony, chronic mental illness or irreconcilable differences.

South Dakota, unlike Florida, recognizes both “fault” and “no fault” divorces. A “no fault” divorce cites irreconcilable differences as the reason for the divorce.

Irreconcilable differences are defined as those determined by the court to be substantial enough reasons for not continuing the marriage and make it appear as though the marriage should be dissolved.

According to South Dakota sources, a Rapid City legislator introduced a bill to remove the grounds of “irreconcilable differences” as a legal reason for couples to get divorced.

In divorce court, irreconcilable differences are the most common in South Dakota. Irreconcilable differences are a way to have a no-fault divorce, and allows a couple to decide that the marriage isn’t working and ask a judge to dissolve the union for no other fault.

But the politician behind the bill said that making divorce harder to get was the point of his legislation: Divorce has gotten to be too easy, and married couples are giving up on their matrimonial contracts.

The result, he said, is that people are throwing each other away, leading to poverty and depression among children whose parents divorce. “How is that helpful to society?”

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 alleged infidelity with a congresswoman. 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.

Avoiding the Badlands

Opponents of the South Dakota bill to make divorce harder included Robert Riter, representing the South Dakota Bar Association, and Steve Siegel, representing the South Dakota Trial Lawyers Association.

Siegel noted that removing irreconcilable differences would require couples to cite one of the six remaining reasons. Those include adultery, extreme cruelty and habitual intemperance. Those reasons would require couples to go to trial, forcing costly and contentious showdowns.

It’s going to force parties to air their dirty laundry in a public forum.

Riter said that the system of divorce law that existed when he started practicing law was worse before irreconcilable differences was added by the Legislature in the 1980s. He noted that other states have similar provisions.

“We’re not an island on this at all,” Riter said. “Society has decided that there ought to be opportunities for parties to agree that the marriage cannot be preserved.”

Tony Monnens, a farmer from Hazel, testified that his wife of 43 years filed for divorce last year after a head injury caused memory loss, which resulted in him losing a job. He said that divorce is too easy.

This thing is the absolute destruction of the family unit as we know it today.

South Dakota’s Argus Leader article is here.

 

A Bitter Yemen: International Child Custody and the UCCJEA

A new international child custody case under New York’s UCCJEA law involves a couple from Yemen who lived in New York with the children. They traveled back to Yemen to celebrate Ramadan and Eid. The mom was expecting to return with the children, but the father decided to stay in Yemen, marry another woman, and divorce the mother.

Yemen Child Custody

When Life Gives You Yemen . . .

Upon learning the Father married another woman, the mother traveled back to the United States to be with her parents in New York, but left the Children behind in Yemen. The children have resided in Yemen with the Father since 2016.

This year, the Mother filed a child custody case in New York to order the Father to bring the children to New York; surrender his and the children’s passport and other travel documents, and force the Father to remain in New York.

Why New York? The Mother claimed the Father worked at a deli in New York, frequently travels for business to New York, and has other business ventures in there.

The Mother’s choice to file under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”) and not the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is easy to explain: Yemen is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, so the Hague Convention doesn’t apply.

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 abducting parent by eliminating their primary motivation for doing so: to “deprive the abduction parent’s actions of any practical or juridical consequences.”

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

The removal or the retention of a child is to be considered wrongful where:

  1. 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
  2. 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.

However, many countries, like Yemen, are not signatories or treaty partners with us in the Hague Convention. Fortunately, when the country holding the abducted children is not a signatory country, the UCCJEA may provide relief.

Florida 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 New York. The ultimate determining factor in a New York case then, is what is the “home state” of the child.

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

The home state seems to be one of the many obstacles for the Yemeni mother in New York.

. . . you may be stuck with Yemen-ade

The Mother – who appeared in court fully-covered in a burqa – also filed domestic violence petition against the Father seeking an order of protection on behalf of herself and the children, reporting that she had fled Yemen due to domestic violence and repeated acts of sexual and physical abuse committed against her by Father.

The Father moved to dismiss all of the Mother’s petitions on the basis that the New York court lacks subject matter jurisdiction under UCCJEA, because the children have undisputedly resided with him in Yemen for the last three years with the Mother’s consent.

They also were divorced in Yemen before the case was filed in New York. The Yemen divorce specifically refers to a settlement between the parties in which the Father got custody of the two older Children, the Mother got custody of the children.

In opposition to the Father’s Motions, the Mother argued that she and the children only stayed in Yemen out of fear of the Father’s retaliation and political connections with the Houthi government.

She also argued Yemen can’t be considered the children’s home state because Yemen is war-torn country, lawless and because of the human rights abuses in there.

The appellate court had to grant the Father’s motion to dismiss because Yemen is definitely not the children’s home state. It was undisputed that the children had been living in Yemen with Father for several years before she filed her UCCJEA case in New York.

Even if the court conceded that Yemen is in a civil war, and that Yemeni laws regarding domestic violence, child custody, and basic human rights do not conform to American law, home state jurisdiction is paramount under the UCCJEA.

The New York appellate decision is here.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day: See You in Court

Valentine’s Day is known for spending big money on flowers and gifts for wives and girlfriends. But as the Wall Street Journal reports, some people are spending big money to sue their Ex – and not just for divorce.

valentines-day

My Achy Breaky Heart

If someone stole your love away from you this Valentine’s Day, can you sue over it? In a few states, you still can.

These “homewrecker” or “heart balm” laws started in scandal. Unscrupulous women used to try to blackmail wealthy men out of large sums of money, helped along by a law allowing people to sue their Ex after a broken engagement. These ladies were “gold-diggers,” “schemers” and “adventuresses,” and what they were doing was nothing short of a racket.

Today, claims like alienation of affections are cases of wrongful acts which deprive a married person of the affections of his or her spouse — love, society, companionship and comfort of the other spouse.

Alienation of affection lawsuits these days arise when an outsider interferes with a marriage. Defendants in these cases are often an adulterous spouse’s lover, but family members, counselors, therapists, and religious members who have encouraged a spouse to get a divorce have also been sued for these matters.

To win an alienation of affection case, you have to prove (1) that the spouses were happily married and a genuine love and affection existed between them; (2) the love and affection was alienated and destroyed; and (3) the defendant caused the destruction of that marital love and affection.

Florida Heart Balm Laws

I’ve written about heart balm statutes before, especially as they relate to engagement rings.

These common law torts are commonly referred to as “heart balm” statutes, because they permitted the former lovers’ heartaches to heal without recourse to the courts.

The purpose of the heart balm statutes was originally to prevent the perpetration of fraud by litigants who would use the threat of a breach of promise of marriage to force defendants to make lucrative settlements in order to avoid embarrassing publicity.

The Florida heart balm statute, originally passed in 1941, abolishes common law actions for alienation of affections, criminal conversation, seduction, and breach of contract to marry.

The Florida Legislature found that those who break engagements may be “free of any wrongdoing … [and may be] merely the victims of circumstances.”

The preamble declares it to be Florida public policy that the best interests of the people of the state are served by the abolition of the breach of promise action.

Someone that I Used to Know

Nowadays, the right to sue for money as damage for the alienation of affections, criminal conversation, seduction, or breach of contract to marry are abolished in Florida.

But this common law tort is still a viable law in a few states in the United States which still allow alienation of affection lawsuits. These states include Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah.

Does that mean all similar lawsuits are over here? Even though Florida’s heart balm causes of action are abolished, that does not mean you can’t sue for replevin of the engagement ring you bought.

That’s because the giving of an engagement ring is a conditional gift in Florida that is dependent “on a voyage on the sea of matrimony.” If the voyage never gets underway, then the gift is never perfected, and the jilted suitor may seek its return by the traditional legal remedy of replevin. Replevin is still a legal remedy.

The Wall Street Journal article is here.

 

Free Speech and the Stark’s Divorce

Pity the Starks of the North. As if the Red Wedding wasn’t enough, now they filed for divorce. To keep things calm, the divorce court restrained them from harassing, abusing, or making disparaging remarks about the other in front of their children and employers. Then things went south.

Winter is Coming

After a five-year marriage, Pamela Stark filed for divorce from her husband, Joe Stark. She is an attorney (formerly a prosecutor) and filed her complaint pro se. He is a sergeant with the Memphis Police Department.

Pamela’s email to the town mayor claimed she was a victim of domestic violence by Joe and a victim of misconduct by the entire Police Department in the handling of her investigation.

She named her husband by name and rank and described her version of the physical altercation between them and the events that followed. Pam asked the mayor in an email to “look into this before it goes further.”

Pamela also wrote the following in a Facebook post:

I speak now as a recent victim of domestic violence at the hands of a Memphis Police Officer. I can attest to how wide the thin blue line can get . . . However it is even more devastating. Who do you turn to when those worn to serve and protect and enforce the law, don’t.

Joe asked the divorce court to order the Facebook post removed, arguing “that such dissemination of these allegations could cause immediate irreparable harm to his reputation and employment” because he and Pam have mutual friends on Facebook. The judge agreed.

Florida Divorce and Free Speech

I’ve written about free speech in family cases before. Family courts have a lot of power to protect children in custody cases. 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 one Florida case, a judge prohibited a parent from speaking Spanish to a child. 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.”

In the Florida case, 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. She was also bipolar and convicted of two crimes.

An appellate 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.

Chilling Speech

Joe testified that his co-workers at the police department saw Pam’s Facebook post, that they have many mutual friends on social media, and that a special prosecutor from another city was appointed to conduct an investigation regarding the alleged incident of domestic violence involving him and Pam.

The trial court ordered that the post be removed:

  • The Court: Ms. Stark, please stand. Are you going to comply with this Court’s orders?
  • Ms. Stark: No, I’m not.
  • The Court: All right. I’m making a finding that you are in direct contempt of court by willfully refusing to comply with this Court’s orders. You will be held held in custody until such time that you decide that you want to change your position and you apologize to this Court.

Pam at first refused to take down the post, but was jailed for four hours and then did. Pam appealed the contempt order. However, the divorce case in which the restraining order was entered was still pending.

Because she appealed from the contempt order, she was limited in her ability to raise issues, and when Pam took down the Facebook post, the contempt issue became moot.

The Reason article is here.

 

Will the Philippines Legalize Divorce

We sometimes take it for granted that a toxic marriage, which can destroy your life and the lives of your children, can be amicably resolved here. That’s not true everywhere. There’s a new bill to legalize divorce in the Philippines — the only remaining state aside from Vatican City that has no divorce law.

Legalize Divorce

‘Thrilla’ in Manila

Many in the Philippines have been advocating for the passage of a divorce bill.

“Divorce is not a monster that will destroy marriages and wreck marital relationships. Let us be clear about this — the monsters that lead to the demise of a marriage are infidelity, abuse, financial problems, lack of intimacy and communication, and inequality.”

Despite this development, religious groups, pro-family advocates who were present in the hearing, and even fellow lawmakers expressed their disapproval of the measure.

Florida Divorce

I’ve written about attempts to criminalize divorce before. Divorce, of course, is legal in the United States. However, traditionally it was made difficult by having to prove “fault.” This required spouses to prove either adultery; abandonment for a certain length of time; prison confinement; a spouse is physically unable to have sexual intercourse; or that the other spouse has inflicted emotional or physical pain (cruelty).

Florida abolished fault as grounds for filing a divorce. The only ground you need to file for divorce in Florida is to prove your marriage is “irretrievably broken.”

After divorce became legal, the concept of proving fault gave way to no-fault laws 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. “Reduced” the need, not eliminated the need.

Dragged into the 21st Century

A Philippine church official has expressed surprise over the speedy acceptance of the bill in that would legalize divorce.

“I was surprised at the speed at which the committee accepted the bill. I was expecting exhaustive deliberations and discussions would be conducted on the measure.”

Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon described the acceptance of the proposed measure as alarming. Earlier, the Catholic Council of the Laity of the Philippines issued a statement expressing opposition to the divorce bill.

The group said the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly provides that divorce is “immoral” because it introduces disorder into the family and into society.

The CNN article is here.

 

Alimony Reform, Marriage Length, and Permanent Alimony

Does the length of your marriage matter for alimony anymore? Some people are asking that after a recent decision by a Florida appeals court re-wrote the rules for measuring what a long-term marriage is. The Regular Session of the Florida legislature convened in January, and alimony reform is a hot topic in Tallahassee.

Trouble in Tallahassee

The Florida House of Representatives is currently convening in Tallahassee to debate House Bill 843 on Dissolution of Marriage. The bill makes a few changes to the divorce statutes, especially alimony.

The bill also redefines the amount and duration for bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, and durational alimony, prohibits ordering a spouse who retired prior to a divorce to pay any alimony, except temporary alimony, unless the court determines otherwise and allows payors to modify alimony up to 12 months before his or her anticipated retirement.

The bill removes presumptions about the length of a short, moderate, or long-term marriage, eliminating permanent alimony (but allowing it if agreed to), prioritizing bridge-the-gap alimony, followed by rehabilitative alimony, before any other form.

Meanwhile, across town in Tallahassee, a recent appeals case from the First District Court of Appeal may throw fuel on the fire. After 16 years and 11 months of marriage, a husband asked for dissolution of the marriage.

The judge granted permanent alimony to the wife. The husband appealed saying the trial court should not have awarded permanent alimony, and should instead have given her durational alimony.

Why? The husband argued they were only married 16 years and 11 months — that’s just one-month shy of the statutory presumption of a “long-term” marriage under Florida statutes. But the trial court treated his marriage as if it were a long-term marriage of 17-years or more – even though it clearly was less.

Florida and the Length of Marriage

In Florida, the duration of a marriage always played a very important role in divorce cases. I’ve written about the types of alimony awards available in Florida before. For instance, Florida Statutes dealing with alimony specifically limit the type of alimony awards based on the duration of the marriage.

For determining alimony, there is a rebuttable presumption that a short-term marriage is a marriage less than 7-years, a moderate-term marriage is greater than 7-years but less than 17-years, and long-term marriage is 17-years or greater.

Florida defines the duration of marriage as the period of time from the date of marriage until the date of filing of an action for dissolution of marriage.

In addition to alimony, the duration of marriage is also a factor in property divisions. When a court distributes the marital assets and liabilities between the parties, the court begins with the premise of an equal split.

Changes to Alimony?

The appellate court ruled that despite the statute, being one month shy of the statutory definition of “long-term” was a de minimis period given the length of the marriage, and that the family law judge was allowed to overcome the presumption as to the length of the marriage to qualify it as a long-term marriage.

In Florida, we have a rebuttable presumption that a long-term marriage warrants an award of permanent alimony. This court argued that even if the parties’ marriage falls into the “grey area” between a long and a short-term marriage, the family judge can consider other factors beyond the duration of the marriage.

Other factors can include the earning capacity of the recipient of alimony. For instance, there was evidence that the wife’s health precludes employment. While she was just 53 years of age at the time of the divorce, her age was not a valid basis to deny permanent alimony absent evidence her relative youth would allow her to earn income sufficient to support a lifestyle consistent with that she enjoyed during the marriage.

What impact will this decision have on the Legislature, since they are considering scrapping permanent alimony altogether, and re-writing the rules around what the duration of a marriage is?

The new bill will require courts to consider the standard of living established during the marriage, and make specific consideration of the needs and necessities of life for each party after the marriage is dissolved, including a rebuttable presumption that both parties will inevitably have a lower standard of living than that which they enjoyed during the marriage.

The court of appeals opinion is here.