Tag: celebrity divorce

A Royal International Child Custody Case

Child custody cases impact everyone, including world leaders as one recent British case proves. But the stakes in an international child custody matter can change when a parent who holds the power of a state government behind him, gets tough.

Royal Child Custody

A Royal Scam?

When you are concerned in your child custody case about the unlimited resources of the other side, knowing the children’s father is His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum the ruler of the Emirate of Dubai and Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates does not help.

Luckily, the children’s mother is Her Royal Highness Princess Haya bint Al Hussein. She is a daughter of His Majesty the late King Hussein of Jordan and the half-sister of the present ruler of Jordan, King Abdullah II.

The mother is the second official wife of the father, who, in addition, has a number of “unofficial” wives. These two children are the two youngest of the father’s 25 children.

In April 2019 the mother travelled to England with Jalila and Zayed. Although it was normal for the children and the mother to visit England, she made it clear soon after arrival that she and the children would not be returning to Dubai.

The Princess claims she fled the Gulf emirate with her children, saying she had become terrified of her husband’s threats and intimidation. The threats continued after the princess moved to London adding that the Sheikh had used the apparatus of the state “to threaten, intimidate, mistreat and oppress with a total disregard for the rule of law.”

In May 2019 the father commenced proceedings to order the children to be returned to the Emirate of Dubai. The mother initially contested the court’s jurisdiction by asserting that she enjoyed diplomatic immunity, it being the case that shortly after her arrival in England the government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan appointed the mother to the post of First Secretary at the Jordanian Embassy in London

The father, as the ruler of the State of Dubai and as the Head of the Government of the UAE, claims and acknowledges that his position attracts certain immunities, and cannot be required to attend this court to give oral evidence.

In October 2019 the father substantially revised his position by no longer pursuing his application for the children to be returned to Dubai. He agreed that the children would now continue to live with their mother and be based with her in England.

Within the same time period, the father published a poem entitled “Luck strikes once”:

“My spirit is cured of you, girl. When your face appears, no pleasure I feel. Don’t say troublemakers are the ones to blame. It’s your fault, though you’re fairer than the moon…They say luck strikes once in a lifetime and if you lose luck you have no excuse”.

The mother took the poem as a direct reference to herself.

Florida Child Custody

I’ve written about child custody and domestic violence before. Florida does not use the term “custody” anymore, we have the parenting plan concept. For purposes of establishing a parenting plan, the best interest of the child is the primary consideration.

The best interests of the child are determined by evaluating all of the factors affecting the welfare and interests of the particular minor child and the circumstances of that family, including evidence of domestic violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.

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.

When discussing family or household members, Florida law defines these to mean spouses, former spouses, persons related by blood or marriage, persons who are presently residing together as if a family or who have resided together in the past as if a family, and persons who are parents of a child in common regardless of whether they have been married.

In Florida, individuals who have experienced domestic violence have civil and criminal remedies to protect themselves from further abuse. Protection orders may include the victim’s children, other family members, roommates, or current romantic partner. This means the same no-contact and stay-away rules apply to the other listed individuals, even if the direct harm was to the victim.

This could include a parent leaving a series of anonymous notes in the other parent’s bedroom making threats such as “We will take your son – your daughter is ours – your life is over” or warning her to be careful; and leaving a gun on the bed with the muzzle pointing towards the door and the safety catch off.

Can’t Buy a Thrill

After listening to witnesses and the King’s poetry, a judge at the High Court in London found that the Father “acted in a manner from the end of 2018 which has been aimed at intimidating and frightening” his ex-wife Princess Haya, 45.

Judge Andrew McFarlane also said the Sheikh “ordered and orchestrated” the abductions and forced return to Dubai of two of his adult daughters from another marriage: Sheikha Shamsa in August 2000, and Sheikha Latifa in 2002 and again in 2018.

The judge made rulings after a battle between the estranged spouses over the welfare of their two children, but the Sheikh fought to prevent them from being made public. The U.K Supreme Court quashed that attempt.

The judge found that Haya’s allegations about the threats and abductions met the civil standard of proof on the balance of probabilities. Princess Haya also alleged that Sheikh Mohammed had made arrangements for Jalila — then aged 11 — to be married to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman.

In 2002 the return was from the border of Dubai with Oman, and in 2018 it was by an armed commando assault at sea near the coast of India.” The judge said Shamsa, now 38, was abducted from the streets of Cambridge and “has been deprived f her liberty for much if not all of the past two decades.”

Sheikh Mohammed is also the founder of the successful Godolphin horse racing stable and last year received a trophy from Queen Elizabeth II after one of his horses won a race at Royal Ascot.

In a statement released after the rulings were published, the Sheikh said that “as a head of government, I was not able to participate in the court’s fact-finding process. This has resulted in the release of a ‘fact-finding’ judgment which inevitably only tells one side of the story.”

“I ask that the media respect the privacy of our children and to not intrude into their lives in the U.K.”

The Time article is 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.

 

Modifications and Other Divorce Trends for 2020

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there were in excess of 787,000 divorces in the United States in their last report. If you’re planning on filing for divorce in 2020, or have other family law issues forcing you into family court, here are some recent trends you should know about.

Divorce trends

How We Changed

When a Massachusetts woman, Elizabeth Luxford, found out her husband James already had a wife, she went straight to court, and then got the first-ever American divorce in December 1639. Her husband James was sentenced to forfeit all of his assets, pay a fine, and faced stocks and pillory.

In the colonies during the 17th century, there was on average one divorce a year. Over time, petitions for divorce grew, with 229 in the Massachusetts Bay colony alone between 1692 and 1785.

The Puritans rejected Anglican and Catholic views of marriage as a sacrament, and defined marriage as a civil matter. If a marriage partner violated the marriage agreement, the injured party could escape the chains of matrimony with a divorce.

Since torture was eliminated in family law, there have been some other noticeable trends in divorces and separations.

Increased Time-sharing

With more two-income families, there has been a recent trend toward increasingly shared time-sharing schedules. In Florida, every year there are always rumblings in Tallahassee to mandate equal time-sharing in all cases, but no bills have been signed into law yet.

Florida has had a long-standing public policy which states that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing.

There is also no presumption for or against the father or mother of the child, or for or against any specific time-sharing schedule, when creating or modifying a parenting plan for the child.

Today, neither parent has a leg up in a custody dispute, which has led to more resolutions that include substantial and even equal parenting time for each party. But while many people want equal time-sharing, a 50/50 time-sharing schedule simply is not practical in many cases.

After a separation or divorce, it is common for parents to live apart, nesting is rare, and some former couples can live more than a few hours apart from each other with traffic. It could be impossible for them to get a child to school and home again every day.

Divorce over 50: The gray divorce

A gray divorce” is a recent term referring to later-in-life divorces where both parties are over age 50. There are unique challenges — legally, financially, and emotionally — for those who divorce when they’re older.

In a gray divorce there may be less time to recover from financial hits such as dividing up the assets, debts and especially retirement benefits. That’s what makes investment management especially critical as the parties face the uncertainties of getting older.

Often, people must retire sooner than they may want to due to health issues or layoffs, which adds to the complexity of older divorces. We are also living longer, and the marital assets must provide for a longer time.

Health care funding also becomes a big issue in older divorces because there is often a time gap between the divorce and when individuals are eligible for Medicare. Medical costs can become a larger portion of the overall budget later in life.

Estate planning issues also come into play. For example, there are new medical directives and powers of attorney which may need to be drafted, new beneficiaries on life insurance, annuities and retirement accounts need to be considered.

The need for trusts and the establishment of other estate planning strategies may change when a couple is no longer together, so those issues need to be addressed too.

Mediation

A growing trend everywhere in the United States, and especially in Florida, is the trend towards alternative dispute resolution. This includes mediation, arbitration and collaborative family law.

The alternative dispute resolution process, such as mediation, arbitration, and collaborative law, are designed to help couples discuss their issues and come to an agreement that is beneficial to everyone, without having to go through a long costly court battle.

The prospect of saving time, money, and minimizing the level of stress involved is perhaps the biggest incentive for people to pursue alternative dispute resolution.

Unlike mediation, arbitration is where a neutral third person or panel considers the facts and arguments presented by the parties and renders a decision. An arbitration can be binding or non-binding. The primary advantage of binding arbitration in non-child family law cases is the conclusiveness which attaches to an arbitration award, which can avoid the expense and delay of litigation.

Modifications of Custody, Alimony, and Support

You might think when a final divorce decree is entered, the case is done. But there is a trend involving more post-judgment filings in family court. In Florida, asking to change something in the final decree or agreement is known as a “modification.” Actions for modifications are supplemental to the original divorce or family law case.

Modifications include cases where parents try to change the time-sharing schedule, argue that alimony should be increased or decreased or terminated because of a substantial change in circumstances.

I recently spoke at the Florida Bar Family Law Section and American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyer’s co-sponsored Certification Review Course in Orlando about modifications. This year’s ‘Cert Review’ course attracted over 1,800 family law attorneys and judges from around the state of Florida.

Is Facebook to blame for the increase in modifications? Some say social media may be a reason for the increase in modifications because it’s a lot easier to see how your former spouse or significant other is doing.

Anyone with a Facebook or Instagram account can spy on the lives of their Ex to see if they are driving around in fancy new cars, eating in expensive restaurants, or if they are involved in a supportive relationship.

The New Jersey article is here.

 

Prenups Can Speed A Divorce

Exhibiting “warp speed”, actor William Shatner’s divorce from his fourth wife, Elizabeth Martin, has been finalized. The “Star Trek” actor filed for divorce last month, and apparently finalized it a month later. His prenuptial agreement likely helped speed his divorce to an early settlement.

Prenups Speed Divorce

Warp Speed

According to many reports, Shatner’s net worth is over $100 Million dollars from over two decades in acting. Distributing the actor’s fortune could have been a tremendous source of litigaton had there not been a prenuptial agreement.

However, court documents show the former couple had a prenuptial agreement in place, which allows the 88-year-old to keep his “Star Trek” royalties, the news outlet said. The actor was married to Martin for 18 years.

When reached by Fox News last month, Martin shared her brother had died around the time Shatner filed for the divorce and that she was with her family “during this time of grief.” “Respect distance from divorce topic while we grieve my brother respectfully,” she added. Representatives for Shatner did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.

Florida Prenuptial Agreements

I’ve written about prenuptial agreements before. Prenuptial agreements are about more than just exploring the strange new world of 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 to explore the strange new worlds of 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.

As shown in Shatner’s case, prenups can also be the fastest way to resolve a future divorce . . . if they’re done right.

There are a galaxy of 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.

Flying Through the Divorce Nebula

In the Shatner divorce, he listed the couple’s separation date as February 1, 2019. He was previously married to Nerine Kidd, Marcy Lafferty and Gloria Rand. He shares two daughters, Lisabeth Shatner, 58, and Leslie Carol, 61, with Rand.

The actor shot to fame in the 1960s for his role as Captain James T. Kirk in the original series run of “Star Trek” and went on to have a lucrative film and TV career afterwards.

Shatner’s third marriage, to Kidd, ended in tragedy in 1999 when she died of accidental drowning in their swimming pool. Although the actor had filed for divorce after two years of marriage shortly before the incident, he explained in his 2018 book “Live Long and…What I Learned Along the Way” that he was nonetheless grief-stricken by the loss.

The Rise of Starfleet

Last week, President Trump unveiled the new logo for the United States Space Force, America’s newest branch of the military. Many are saying the logo looks suspiciously like the logo for the fictional Starfleet Command in the Star Trek entertainment universe.

Fellow Star Trek actor, George Takei, who played the character “Sulu” on the original series with Shatner, mocked the new logo for Space Force. After it was unveiled, Takei quickly tweeted:

‘Ahem. We are expecting some royalties from this..’

In his Washington Post opinion piece, Takei drew parallels between the Trump administration and a Star Trek episode called ‘Mirror, Mirror,’ where the USS Enterprise bridge crew find themselves in a parallel universe where ‘cruelty’ has replaced ‘diplomacy.’

The Fox News article is here.

 

Another Case of Fraud and Divorce

A 77-year old Tampa businessman filed to divorce his 26-year-old wife who may have tried to steal $1,000,000.00 from him. Is this yet another case of divorce fraud, and if so, what can be done? The Husband’s divorce attorneys at Sessums Black Caballero Ficarrotta will have to find out.

Divorce Fraud 3

A Tampa Bay Buccaneer

Court records show that 77-year old Richard Rappaport’s attorney filed an action for dissolution of marriage against his 26-year old wife, Lin Halfon, on Friday, Jan. 10. The couple was married in Sarasota in August.

Halfon won’t have an easy time getting to divorce court because she’s been incarcerated for a month at the Hillsborough County Jail on Falkenburg Road.

She is facing charges of money laundering, organized fraud, exploitation of the elderly and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

His wife, Ms. Halfon, has been charged with money-laundering, organized fraud and exploitation of an elderly person after being arrested at Tampa international airport in Florida.

Florida Divorce Fraud

I’ve written about various aspects of divorce fraud before. In Florida, courts distribute the marital assets, such as bank accounts, between parties under the premise that the distribution should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution.

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

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

Dissipation of marital assets, such as taking money from a joint bank account, happens a lot. Trying to cash a million dollar check at a payday loan store . . . less so. In both cases, the misconduct may serve as a basis for assigning the dissipated asset to the spending spouse when calculating equitable distribution.

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

When it’s Friday and Payday!

This divorce fraud case may also get entered into the world’s dumbest criminal’s museum. She’ll join a trio of drug thieves who broke into a Florida home, snorted the contents of three jars – which were in fact urns – only to discovery they’d inhaled the remains of two cherished dogs.

The Wife went to a payday loan company called, Amscot, and tried to cash a $1 million check with both of their names on it. Court documents said Rappaport’s wife returned to the bank with three checks in the amount of $333,000. The police investigation began after an employee refused to cash the checks.

After being notified by investigators, Rappaport said he wanted to give his new wife the benefit of the doubt and did not want her to be deported. When asked later if he felt he was the victim of fraud, Rappaport told investigators, “yes.”.

The Wife’s defense attorney Todd Foster said he plans to file motions asking for bond and evidentiary hearings and asked:

“Can a wife steal from her husband? Is that a crime? We’re looking at that.”

Rappaport’s daughter said in an arrest affidavit that his family members were unaware of the marriage and believed Halfon was ‘conning’ Rappaport due to his age” according to the arrest affidavit.

The Wife’s attorney claims it “was a valid marriage” and that they loved each other.

Tampa’s Channel 8 article is here.

Did Your Promotion Cause Your Divorce?

Does a promotion to a top job increase your likelihood of divorce? Two Swedish professors researched that issue, and found that a promotion to a top job doubled the probability of divorce for women . . . but not so much for men.

Sweden Divorce

Divorce Stockholm Syndrome

The professors also found that there was a widening gender gap in divorce rates for men and women after being promoted to CEO. Their analysis of possible mechanisms may show that divorces are concentrated in more gender-traditional couples, while women in more gender-equal couples are unaffected.

No one doubts that the economic and social roles of men and women have been converging in recent decades. Women in Western democracies have largely caught up with men in terms of labor force participation, tertiary education, and career expectations.

But what lags behind is women’s realization of those career goals. In 2015, men accounted for 95% of CEOs in Forbes 500 firms and more than 75% of the world’s parliamentarians.

The professors argued that one potential reason for women’s slower career progressions is that a job promotion for a woman causes more stress and strain on the household than the job promotion of a man.

They also offer the first empirical analysis of how the promotion to a top job in the economy affects the marriage durability of men and women. They found that a promotion to a top job leads to an increased rate of divorce among women, but not among men.

Florida Divorce

I have written about some of the various reasons why people divorce in the past: snoring, calling the bride “fat” at the wedding and others. In Florida, a divorce is called a “dissolution of marriage.” Florida abolished fault as a ground for dissolution of marriage. The only requirement to dissolve a marriage is for one of the parties to prove that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.”

Either spouse can file for the dissolution of marriage. Generally, you have to prove that your marriage exists, one of the spouse’s has been a Florida resident for six months immediately preceding the filing of the petition, and the marriage is irretrievably broken.

The reason for the irretrievable breakdown, however, may be considered under certain limited circumstances in the determination of alimony, equitable distribution of marital assets and debts, and the development of the parenting plan.

Every case is different, so results can differ from case to case. Outcomes in a divorce include, among other things, dividing the assets and debts, an award of alimony, determining the amount of child support, and parental responsibility and time-sharing schedules. There is no “one-size-fits-all” or “standard” dissolution of marriage in Florida.

Divorce can be highly emotional for couples and their children. But was your promotion to CEO the cause of all of this trauma?

Relationship Fjords

The professors’ analysis was carried out using Swedish register data and targets promotions to three types of top jobs. Two of the jobs are top public sector jobs, and the third type was in the private sector: CEOs of companies with more than 100 employees.

The analysis linked the divorce impact of the promotion to couples for which the woman’s promotion to a top job conflicted with gender-traditional behavior in the household.

Divorces are more likely to occur when the wife is younger than her husband by a greater margin, and where she took a larger share of the couple’s total parental leave.

Another important finding was a large gender difference in the correlation between the probability of a divorce and experiencing a promotion that shifts earnings from dual-earner into the woman becoming the dominant earner.

Among women whose promotions make them the dominant earner, i.e. making more than 60% of household income, more than 15% divorced within three years after the promotion. In the corresponding group for men, only 3% had divorced.

Some of the problems with the study included the fact that there is no register for which spouse initiated the divorce, there is no good annual measure of the division of household work, and Sweden does not measure cohabitation accurately.

So, if job promotion causes divorce among women, is that a good thing or a bad thing? The professors argue that the implications for society are largely negative because human talent for top positions is evenly distributed among men and women and the vast majority of men and women put “family” at the top of their list of priorities for life satisfaction.

An abstract is available here.

 

Is January Really Divorce Month?

January is usually reserved for kicking bad habits and beginning work on those New Year’s resolutions. But some parts of the internet, this blog included, have suggested that January has earned it’s nickname as “divorce month.” Is there truth to it? The New York Times recently investigated.

divorce january

‘Tis the Season?

There is no doubt that divorce is a seasonal phenomenon. From Thanksgiving until New Year’s, lawyers’ offices can slow down with new filings because people have decided to put off until after the holidays their decisions to separate.

A Google trends search for “divorce last year returned that it was – ever so slightly – most popular from January 6th to January 12th. The term has peaked at various times though, from March and September too!

A 2016 study by the University of Washington analyzed divorce filings in Washington state from 2001 to 2015 and found they peaked in March and August, following the winter and summer holidays.

Florida No-fault Divorce

Divorce rates started to increase in the 1970s when baby boomers started divorcing at higher rates and the introduction of no-fault divorce laws.

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

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

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

Adultery can be the cause of a divorce, but can it impact the outcome? Since Florida became a no-fault state, the fact that, “she (or he) is sleeping with a co-worker” doesn’t hold much traction in court any more.

Some states still have fault-based divorce, and some of the common fault-based grounds for divorce are adultery, desertion, extreme cruelty, incarceration for conviction of a crime, institutionalization for mental illness, and a spouse’s continued abuse of drugs or alcohol.

New Year’s Resolution?

Not everyone thinks January is divorce month. Some people think it is a perception of the end of the year slow-down, and that the comparison makes it appear to be a big month for filing.

However, divorce timelines can also be impacted by state. In Georgia, divorces can be granted in as little as one month, or could take years. In California, there is a mandatory six-month waiting period for a divorce to be finalized.

When you file for divorce, you may impact everything financial including taxes. Your marital status on the last day of the year can determine how you file your taxes. If a state has a rule regarding your filing status and separation, that could be a reason for a January filing.

Responsibilities for children, lack of romance, incompatibility and money problems are all big drivers of divorce. Many people feel there is an uptick in divorce filing around anniversaries and Valentine’s Day too. The answer to the question “is January really divorce month?” is, maybe.

The New York Times article is here.

 

An Interstate Custody Marriage Story

The new Netflix divorce drama, Marriage Story, is an excellent movie which has brought critics and audiences together – with divorce attorneys! Largely overlooked in the detail it deserves is the legal implications of Nicole and Charlie’s interstate child custody fight which develops when Nicole moves to California from New York with their son Henry.

interstate custody

Act 1: Whose Fault is It?

Nicole is the one who moves to Los Angeles with their son. She doesn’t have to – they are a New York family, despite her having been raised on the west coast. The movie makes a lot of their having married in Los Angeles and their son was born there, but for the past 10-years, they’ve lived and worked in New York.

The reason for Nicole’s relocation to Los Angeles is a job offer, she gets hired to be in a TV pilot. Job offers are a common source for needing to relocate interstate with a child. However, there is no indication that she can’t find acting work in New York. Surely there are other work opportunities she could have in New York, had she really looked.

Then she makes her husband’ efforts to see their son in Los Angeles difficult when he visits. She steered Charlie away from sleeping for the night on the day he’s arrived – even though he has no idea she filed for divorce. Worse yet, he’s served with divorce papers in her parent’s house. Then Halloween becomes a sad, lonely time.

Act 2: Interstate Custody

I’ve written and spoken about interstate custody cases before. Generally, when two parents reside in a state, like Florida for instance, Florida custody laws will apply. However, when one of the parents and the child move across state lines, you have an interstate custody problem.

That’s exactly the problem Charlie faced after Nicole moved with their son to California from New York. But which law applies? Historically, family law is a matter of state rather than federal law. So, you would look to state law in deciding an interstate case; not Federal law. As will be seen below, there are some conflicts with different state laws.

To help with confusion between different laws in different American states, the Uniform Law Commission is tasked with drafting laws on various subjects that attempt to bring uniformity across American state lines. With respect to family law, different American states had adopted different approaches to issues related to interstate custody, visitation, and time-sharing. The results were that different states had conflicting resolutions to the same problems.

To seek harmony in this area, the Uniform Law Commission promulgated the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (the UCCJEA), which Florida and almost all U.S. states passed 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 for the Nicole and Charlie example. The ultimate determining factor in a New York case then, is what is the “home state” of the child. New York has initial jurisdiction to hear Nicole and Charlie’s case, for example, if New York was the Home State of their son on the date Nicole filed her case.

Alternatively, New York could possibly hear their case if New York was the Home State of the child within 6-months before Nicole filed her case, and their son was absent from New York, but one of the parents still lives in New York. This usually happens when a parent takes a child across state lines.

There is a good reason for the ‘home state’ approach under the UCCJEA, which has been adopted by most state laws. That is that Florida, California and New York – and the other states – all have a strong public policy interest in protecting children in their states.

Act 3: The Big Decision

Charlie does face a serious interstate child custody problem, and has a few weaknesses too. Charlie cheated and feeling guilty, allowed Nicole and their son to move to California for at least a year. We don’t know how long after Nicole moved to California she filed for divorce. Nicole has always done more of the childcare and has extended family in California – a luxury that Charlie doesn’t enjoy.

The stakes in the movie are extremely high for interstate parents facing a custody problem. The big issue is whether Charlie will need to move to Los Angeles to keep up regular contact with his son or be able to force Nicole to return their son to New York so she can timeshare there.

I won’t give a spoiler as to how their interstate child custody case is finally resolved. Instead, know that the movie does an amazing job of portraying the high stakes and anxiety involved in an interstate child custody divorce.

The new Netflix movie, Marriage Story, is great, and stars Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Azhy Robertson, Julie Hagerty, Merritt Wever, and Wallace Shawn and basically follows a married couple going through a coast-to-coast divorce.

Highly recommended!

*Gage Skidmore photo credit

A Phaser-Proof Prenuptial Agreement?

William Shatner, who is best known for starring as Enterprise captain James T. Kirk on the original Star Trek, has reached the final frontier of his marriage: he has filed for divorce from his wife of 18 years. News reports suggest the Captain and his First Mate previously entered into a prenuptial agreement. But will it be phaser-proof?

Phaserproof Prenup

Beam Me Up Scotty

Transmission of the news was received this week about the divorce filing, but some sources believe the divorce process had already been in the works for a while. Importantly TMZ noted that there was a prenup in place, the couple never had children together, and neither party is asking for spousal support. Observers are predicting a smooth divorce will be transported down to court fairly soon.

I was attracted by her beauty first of all, which was an old syndrome for me … and I think I lucked out because she had so many other qualities as well. Elizabeth has a great sense of humor and a great sense of adventure and she’s very nurturing. That combination of beauty, style, intelligence, humor and loving horses and dogs and children and loving her home and making a home for us, is quite a combination.

This marriage is not the Captain’s first voyage. Shatner’s wife, Elizabeth, 61, is his fourth, er sequel, in movie parlance.

Florida Prenups

I’ve written about prenuptial agreements before. Prenuptial agreements are about more than just exploring the strange new world of 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 to explore the strange new worlds of 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.

Prenups can be the best captain at the helm . . . if they’re done right.

There are a galaxy of 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.

Warp Speed Ahead

The Shatners are still negotiating the financial terms, a source told the site TMZ.

‘Per the terms of the prenup, neither party will receive any support from the other.

The Captain has had a colorful love life previously that resulted in four marriages and three daughters. Shatner and Elizabeth Shatner married in February 2001. He was previously married to Gloria Rand, Marcy Lafferty and Nerine Kidd, and has three daughters, Melanie, Leslie and Lisabeth, with Rand. Elizabeth Shatner was previously wed to Michael Glenn Martin.

Sources said Shatner and Elizabeth are expected to soon submit their divorce documents for a final signature from a judge.

The TMZ article is here.

 

A Slice of Equitable Distribution and Alimony

The wife of Papa John’s founder John Schnatter filed for divorce, claiming her marriage with the unemployed pizza executive is “irretrievably broken,” according to court papers filed in Kentucky. If there is no prenuptial agreement, how big a slice of equitable distribution of the stock and any alimony is Annette entitled to?

Slice of Equitable Distribution

When the Moon Hits Your Eye

Papa John’s is an American pizza restaurant franchise. It runs the fourth largest pizza delivery restaurant chain in the United States, with headquarters in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, a suburb of Louisville.

Papa John’s was founded in 1984 when “Papa” John Schnatter knocked out a broom closet in the back of his father’s tavern, Mick’s Lounge, in Jeffersonville, Indiana. He then sold his 1971 Camaro Z28 to purchase US$1,600 worth of used pizza equipment and began selling pizzas to the tavern’s customers out of the converted closet.

John’s pizzas became so popular he moved into the adjoining space. The company went public in 1993 and a year later it had 500 stores. By 1997 it had 1,500 stores. And in 2009, John got his Camaro Z28 back after offering a $250,000 reward.

Schnatter and Annette Cox, 59, had been married since April 11, 1987, and separated on April 1 of this year, the wife’s attorney Melanie Straw-Boone writer in papers filed in Oldham Circuit Court. Cox called Schnatter a 57-year-old Louisville resident who “is not employed,” according to the boilerplate, three-page petition.

“The marriage between petitioner and respondent is irretrievably broken”.

The couple have two children and share unspecified real estate holdings, the filing said. Schnatter stepped down as CEO in late 2017 after reports surfaced that he uttered a racial slur during a conference call.

Alimony, Equitable Distribution, and the Length of Marriage

In Florida, the duration of marriage is an important topping 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.

So, 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.

The duration of marriage can also be a large slice of the property division. When a court distributes the marital assets and liabilities between the parties, the court begins with the premise of an equal split.

However, there are times and cases which justify an unequal distribution based on several relevant factors. One of the factors a court can consider is the duration of marriage, in addition to other factors.

Dividing assets between spouses – especially large companies such as Papa John’s – is not as simple as taking a pizza cutter to a hot pie; even with agreements. Very often assets have appreciated over the course of several years. The longer the marriage is, the more a business interest can appreciate. When property appreciates, you need to distinguish between passive and active appreciation. A passive asset could be an investment account which is never traded.

A business, on the other hand, is an active investment, and the percentage a spouse is entitled to may depend on different things. Even with the most sophisticated couples, such as the Schnatter/Cox family, unless you clairvoyant, issues will arise that no one considered in earlier agreements, and are prime for negotiation.

Pizza Ready?

Separate from the divorce case, Schnatter filed a lawsuit Thursday against an advertising firm which was at the center of the racial slur incident.

Schnatter allegedly uttered the slur during a call with advertising firm Laundry Service, which the pizza executive accused of recording him without his consent. The lawsuit claims that Laundry Service leaked excerpts of the conference call, which broke a nondisclosure agreement.

Two weeks ago, Schnatter accused his former company of making substandard pizza. He said his former company has failed in keeping up with its long-time slogan: “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza.”

“I’ve had over 40 pizzas in the last 30 days, and it’s not the same pizza,” Schnatter told WDRB, a Fox affiliate in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not the same product. It just doesn’t taste as good.

The NBC News article is here.