Tag: best family lawyer

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Happy Thanksgiving

The divorce and family law offices of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. will close at 2:00 PM on Wednesday, November 27 for the Thanksgiving holiday. We will re-open at 9:00 AM on Monday, December 2, 2019. We wish you and your family a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving

Before Thanksgiving’s arrival is the time to resolve child custody and timesharing problems so you can enjoy your turkey dinner with minimum stress for you and your children. Below are suggestions to make your Thanksgiving visitation issues a little easier:

Alternate. Some families alternate Thanksgiving every other year. If you get the kids for Thanksgiving this year, next year will be the other parent’s turn. Having a regular plan to fall back on can eliminate the potential for what is fair.

Be flexible. An easy Thanksgiving schedule for everyone may require some changes from the normal visitation schedule.

Be respectful. You may not want to be friends anymore, but you need to figure out how to communicate with your ex without all the emotional baggage.

Don’t mix issues. Do not bring up unrelated issues which could make a problem free Thanksgiving dinner impossible. Set aside your differences until after the holiday season.

Pick your battles. Thanksgiving may be more important to you than Easter is to your ex-spouse. Don’t fight just for the sake of fighting.

Protect the children. Your children’s memories of Thanksgiving should be about great food and family fun. They should not be forced to witness you and another parent arguing.

Plan. Start talking about the holiday visitation schedule sooner rather than later, the longer you wait the harder it can be.

Thanksgiving can be stressful. But the weather has cooled and the kids are on vacation. Try to make the holidays the best time of year.

 

 

Social Media, Family Law, and Russian Hacking

Hypothetically, if Vladimir Putin opened fake social media accounts in your name to ruin your family law custody case, what would happen? An unfortunate Florida woman, who was recently sentenced to five months in jail for a few posts on her Facebook page, found out the hard way.

Social Media Family Law

News Feed

The Father, Timothy Weiner, had been warned. The judge in his custody case ordered him to stop harassing his ex-wife on Facebook. The family court judge issued two orders to keep any information about the case off social media and prevent family members from publishing information about the custody action on social media.

“Neither parent,” Pasco Circuit judge Lauralee Westine wrote in her order after the September hearing, “shall disparage or threaten the other parent on social media.”

But a week later, a photo of his ex-wife surfaced on a father’s rights Facebook page called “Mothers who abuse kids.” Weiner hit the “like” button. Fast forward to this summer. The Father’s new wife, Jessie Weiner, who is not a party to his custody case, was not served with the order.

In one of Ms. Weiner’s Facebook posts, sensitive family court documents concerning her Husband’s child from his previous marriage were posted. Court records indicate that someone on Weiner’s Facebook even shared an old news article about when her husband was jailed over a Facebook post.

The uploaded Facebook documents had to do with the ongoing family law custody case between Weiner’s husband and his ex. The family judge was not amused, and took swift action. She entered an order directing Ms. Weiner to show cause why she should not be held in indirect criminal contempt for failing to obey her orders.

Ms. Weiner received the order to show up in court the day before the 4:30 p.m. hearing that had been scheduled. Her lawyer, whom she retained on the same day as the hearing, argued for dismissal, for the judge’s disqualification, and for a continuance.

“Next thing I know, I hear five months in the county jail. “No matter what I said, I was guilty.”

The family judge denied all of her motions, found Ms. Weiner guilty of indirect criminal contempt, and sentenced her to five months’ confinement in jail for contempt of court.

What if, as Ms. Weiner argued, the social media accounts were not authentic, i.e. she didn’t make the Facebook posts?

Florida Authenticity and Social Media

I’ve written about the widespread use of social media in society, and how that impacts family court cases. Especially when it comes to authenticating documents in family court.

Some exhibits are so trustworthy they don’t even require a witness to authenticate. Evidence Rule 201 lists matters which a court must judicially notice, meaning a judge does not have discretion but to admit indisputable evidence.

The list is short, and includes laws of the Congress and Florida Legislature; Florida statewide rules of court, rules of United States courts, and U.S. Supreme Court rules.

Rule 202 includes even more matters, but also provides judges leeway in deciding whether or not to take judicial notice. For example, the statute allows a court to take judicial notice of facts that are not subject to dispute because they are “generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the court”, and facts that are not subject to dispute because they are “capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot be questioned.”

But with the Russian election scandal, and the widespread use of fake social media accounts, you have to start to wonder whether the genuineness assumption of evidence in family court still stands.

Governments manipulate photographs. It is not unheard of for spouses to hack computers and borrow smartphones to impersonate their owners’ texts. Anyone can set up a Facebook page, email, Instagram, or twitter account.

The increasing use of electronic evidence at trial, and the ease with which it is impersonated and manipulated, pressures us to bolster foundational evidence more than ever. Unfortunately for Ms. Weiner, she was jailed before she could even challenge the evidence.

What’s on your mind?

The Second District Court of Appeals had no trouble quashing the contempt order and freeing Ms. Weiner . . . after she served a month in jail.

First, the order violated Ms. Weiner’s due process rights because she was not subject to or served with the court order that she was accused of disobeying.

Second, the order to show cause was never served on Ms. Weiner within a “reasonable time allowed for preparation of the defense,” as required by Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. Ms. Weiner’s name did not appear in the order’s service list, and it is undisputed that she received the order the day before the hearing and did not engage counsel until the morning of the hearing.

Finally, the trial judge should have disqualified herself because the contempt conduct involved disrespect and criticism of the judge.

This rule assures that a person cited for a contempt of court which involved a criticism of a judge, would not be tried before the judge who was the subject of the criticism.

The opinion is here.

 

Divorce Tax Strategies

As the New York Times reports, divorce can be a business negotiation. Harsh as that may sound — especially if there are children being fought over — when a couple gets to a final hearing or mediation, numbers matter. There are some divorce tax strategies you should know about involving the home, alimony, and even the time allotted with children.

divorce tax strategies

New Tax Code

Divorce negotiations are never easy, but they became even more complicated this year after the sweeping overhaul of our tax code changed many of the calculations that factor into the logistics of divorce.

The most sweeping tax legislation since 1986 was signed into law in 2017 and are only now taking effect. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act makes reductions to income tax rates, reduces the income tax rate for corporations and pass-through entities like Sub-S corps and LLCs.

The revised tax code has brought some surprises to couples going through a divorce too, and many lawyers are suggesting that clients bring accountants into the divorce team to lay out the tax implications of age-old strategies.

Nothing is Certain: Divorce and Taxes

I’ve written about divorce and taxes before. The new tax code changes will impact your divorce, but the alimony deduction change may not be the only tax change which you should take into consideration in your divorce.

Many people are criticizing the new tax law in general. For example the decision to end the alimony deduction receives a lot of criticism. Many are saying it made divorce worse.

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

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

So, what are some of the new divorce ax strategies to consider with the changes to the tax code?

Alimony

Everyone involved in divorce has been talking about what happened to alimony and taxes. Last year I was warning clients in the midst of their divorces to hurry things up because of the new tax law changes which made alimony not deductible anymore. But like love, divorce cannot be rushed.

For divorces completed this year, and in the future, the spouse paying alimony can no longer deduct the alimony from taxes while the spouse receiving the money no longer has to claim it as income.

The loss has made alimony payments more costly to the paying spouse because it eliminated a tax break that often served as a reason to bring about an agreement by taking off the sting of alimony payments.

Family Home

The new tax law’s restrictions on deducting state and local taxes (the so-called “SALT” deductions) surprised many who saw their tax bill go up. When it comes to divorce, that limitation on deducting your real estate taxes can turn your home into a hot potato.

Usually, the spouse with less money would often want to keep the marital home for the children, but doing so now has become more costly.

In high-property-tax states, some divorcing couples are looking to get rid of second homes as well. Some states further complicate the process by having a set of standards that were created when alimony and state and local taxes were deductible on federal tax returns. While the SALT deductions have changed, the standards have not.

Dependents

The tax value of children in a divorce was also changed in the tax overhaul. In financial terms, children have become a smaller deduction.

The exemption for each dependent — $4,050 per person — was eliminated, but the child tax credit was increased to $2,000.

That credit starts to phase out at $200,000 of income for an individual and disappears at $240,000. This can impact you because the credit can be given to the spouse with lower income in exchange for a break elsewhere in the negotiations.

The New York Times article is here.

 

Dividing the Iron Throne: Divorce and Streaming Services

With the start of the final season of Game of Thrones, everyone wants to “borrow” passwords to HBO. Who will take the Iron Throne is almost as tough a question as how a divorce court handles streaming services like HBO, Netflix, Hulu and others.

Game of Groans

As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, when Aimee Custis and Kian McKellar broke up after four years, the couple divvied up their books, photography equipment and cookware.

Left undivided was their Netflix, Hulu and Pandora accounts. They didn’t discuss separating the subscriptions when one of them moved out of their shared Washington, D.C., apartment. They just continued paying their respective bills—hers, Hulu, and his, Netflix and Pandora.

Two-and-a-half years later, they still share those services. In the so-called sharing economy, even when love is no longer mutual, bills for entertainment and communication often are.

Streaming music and video services that permit multiple users, plus the proliferation of family cellphone plans in recent years that are cheaper than individual accounts, have created ties that bind long after a breakup or even divorce.

Florida Divorce and Streaming Services

I’ve written about property division before. Property division, or equitable distribution as it is called in Florida, is governed by statute and case law.

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

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

Streaming services, such as HBO, Netflix and Hulu however are not marital assets per se. They are merely expenses, much like your cell phone plan. Cell phone plans typically require a contract for two years and you can face fees if you break your contract early.

There are not many options: break the plan and pay the fees and penalty or coming to an agreement with your spouse about who pays for what during the remainder of the contract.

No Battle for Winterfell?

Do you have to leave your Netflix and HBO access with your soon to be ex? No always. Interestingly, not everyone going through divorce and separation get dropped from the account.

Sometimes people do not realize that their password is shared and their spouse is still watching. But other times people purposefully keep their spouse or ex on the account because sentimentality intrudes.

A consultant in his 30s says he was puzzled by his parents’ decision to pay for his brother’s ex-girlfriend’s cellphone plan long after their breakup. The $30-per-month cost was minimal, they told him, and their memories of her were fond.

The Wall Street Journal article is here (subscription required).