Tag: Divorce

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.

 

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.

 

Four Essential Divorce Tips You Might be Missing

Many know that January is a popular month for couples to start consulting with divorce attorneys about dissolutions of marriage. This January is turning out to be no different than in the past. In New Jersey, an online magazine is offering up some essential divorce tips you might be missing.

Divorce Courts

Divorce Planning

Divorce is one of the most consequential decisions you will ever make — in both emotional and financial terms — it’s essential your interests are protected. New Jersey’s online magazine has four essential tips you may be missing if you’re planning a divorce and have already started the research.

Don’t compare yourself to everyone else

One of the biggest mistakes people make when pursuing a divorce is seeking information about the divorce process — or the likely outcome of their own divorce — by comparing themselves to divorced family members and friends.

Even worse, many people look online and compare themselves to what they read from anonymous online sources. It is often difficult to undo the preliminary `research’ clients conduct, as each divorce is different from the outcome of that of a friend.

Comparing your divorce to your friend’s divorce can result in a skewed perception of how a divorce matter will proceed and could result in unrealistic expectations.

Don’t wait to get a lawyer

People often become their own worst enemies, especially if they decide to count on their online research skills or do it yourself divorce experts.

There is no limit to the information you can learn about divorce, custody, alimony and support on the internet. Be aware that some of this information can be sound, and some is just plain wrong.

One of the hardest situations any divorce attorney has seen is that potential client who has scheduled a consultation after they already signed a marital settlement agreement resolving all issues, and it is clear that they signed a terrible deal.

Although not always the case, many of these unfortunate people are then faced with some tough advice that what they did may not be able to be undone.

Make sure your rights are protected and hire an attorney to guide you through the process.

Florida Divorce Planning

I’ve written on many divorce issues and divorce planning. In Florida, a divorce is called a “dissolution of marriage.” Florida is one of the many states that have 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.

You must prove that a marriage exists, one party 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.

The divorce process can be very emotional and traumatic for couples as well as their kids. Spouses often do not know their legal rights and obligations. Court clerks and judges can answer some basic questions but cannot give legal advice.

Only an attorney can provide legal advice. Statutory requirements and court rules must be strictly followed, or you may lose certain rights permanently. Be careful to seek expert advice early in the process and hopefully not after you signed an agreement or went to court on your own.

It’s important to only take legal and financial advice from a lawyer and a trusted financial professional. They will be able to objectively help you through your particular situation with the most effective and beneficial advice and strategies.

Consider other professionals, too

While a family law attorney is essential to protect your interests, other professionals can help with the process.

Consider bringing in a forensic accountant who is familiar with Florida divorces, property divisions, how alimony is arrived at, and how child support is calculated. Also consider that many people use financial advisers in addition to forensic accountants.

Knowing both the financial and tax implications of divorce are extremely important as the decisions you make can impact your financial goals for a lifetime. Financial professionals aren’t the only ones who can help.

In collaborative family law cases we always use a neutral divorce facilitator who is a trained psychologist, and I encourage clients to work with a therapist to get through an emotional process.

Don’t let emotions take over

Resolving a divorce can be an important business decision and emotions can ruin the best deal. Indeed, it’s easy to make emotional decisions during the divorce process.

Clients should try hard to put their emotions aside, which can sometimes be easier said than done, and view the choices they have to make as part of the divorce process as business decisions.

Seeing divorce as a business transaction is a good strategy, but if someone is consumed by anger, guilt or other emotions, they can’t focus on the numbers and is not prepared to negotiate.

The New Jersey article is here.

 

Speaking at Marital & Family Law Review Course

Honored to be asked to speak to over 1800 divorce lawyers, judges, hearing officers and other professionals at the prestigious Marital & Family Law Review Course in Orlando from January 31st to February 1st. I will be discussing modifications of parenting plans, settlement agreements, alimony and support. The event is co-sponsored by the Florida Bar Family Law Section and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

Cert Review Speech

Modifications

Life happens. When it does, we often have to make changes to our parenting plans, agreements, the alimony we pay or receive, and the amount of support being paid. What do you need to modify any aspect of your divorce agreement or order?

In Florida, a substantial change is what must be proven in court when a parent wishes to modify a previous court order or divorce or separation agreement. It may be the person who must pay alimony or support and recently retired, lost their job, or received a significant pay cut.

A change may come from a whose job now allows them to spend more time at home and would like to spend that extra time with their children. Whenever there has been a substantial change in your circumstances you may be able to ask for a modification of your court order or agreement

Certification Review Course

It is a privilege to be invited to speak again at the annual Marital and Family Law Certification Review course again.

The annual seminar is the largest, and most prestigious advanced family law course in the state. Last year’s audience included over 1,800 attorneys and judges from around the state.

The review course is co-presented by the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar, and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

Registration information is available here.