Tag: Marital Settlement Agreements

Enforcing or Modifying Your Marital Settlement Agreement

We scored another big appellate win which sheds light on the question: are you enforcing or modifying your marital settlement agreement when a family court requires the continuation of soccer and other extra-curriculars?

The Beautiful Game

In our recent appeal, the parents had three children. After less than a decade of marriage, they divorced in Portugal, but they never had a parenting plan for their children. After they both moved to Miami with the children, a family court ratified their agreed parenting plan.

Under their parenting plan, they agreed to certain extracurricular activities, including organized activities such as soccer, lessons and special training. However, the sports and activities had to be mutually agreed on by the parents in accordance with Florida’s shared parental responsibility statute.

All of the children’s current extracurricular activities, especially ‘the beautiful game,’ soccer, were agreed upon by both parents. Additionally, they agreed that the parent exercising time sharing with the children handle the transportation with the necessary equipment.

Although all three of the children were traditionally dedicated to sporting activities, their involvement in youth soccer travel teams had increased, requiring more of a time commitment because the children are expected to attend frequent practices, and regularly traveling outside of their local community for games and tournaments.

The father filed a motion to stop the soccer commitments of the children and to eliminate his obligation to transport the children to certain competitive events during his timesharing.

The family judge heard his motion, and, after considering the relative merits of the parties, along with the language reflected within the parenting plan, entreated the parties to reach an agreement as to enrollment and participation in the relevant activities.

When that failed, the court conducted another hearing and authorized the mother to re-enroll the children in their respective leagues and directing the father to transport the children to those competitive events scheduled during his timesharing.

He appealed.

Florida Marital Settlement Agreements

I’ve written about modifications and enforcement of marital settlement agreements before. Most family law cases are resolved by agreement, not by trial. A Marital Settlement Agreement is the method to resolving all of the issues, and is the final product of the negotiations.

A marital settlement agreement puts in writing all the aspects of the divorcing parties’ settlement. Topics covered in the Marital Settlement Agreement include the parenting plan and timesharing schedule, the division of the parties’ assets and liabilities, and often times: soccer and other extra-curricular activities to which the parties have agreed.

A marital settlement agreement entered into by the parties and ratified by a final judgment is a contract, subject to the laws of contract. The enforceability and modifications of contracts in Florida is a matter of importance in Florida public policy.

Because a marital settlement agreement is treated like any other contract, and is subject to interpretation like any other contract, they can be enforced by the court. Unique to marital settlement agreements though, they may be modified too.

But sometimes it is difficult to tell whether the court’s action is a modification of a contract or the enforcement of a contract. Our recent appellate goal hopefully sheds some light on that distinction.

Goal!

Ruling in our favor, the appellate court wrote an opinion stating that under the principle of shared parental responsibility, major decisions affecting the welfare of the child are to be made after the parents confer and reach an agreement.

However, in cases in which the parents cannot reach agreement on such a decision, the dispute should be presented to the trial court for resolution. In resolving the impasse, the lower tribunal must be guided by a consideration of the best interests of the child.

In our case, the parenting plan allows for shared decisions over extracurricular activities, but prohibited the unreasonable withholding of consent. So, the court was properly permitted to explore the facts and circumstances surrounding both continued participation and transportation.

At the time the parents signed the parenting plan, the children were already heavily involved in soccer. By including a provision that the “present extracurricular activities are agreed upon by both parents,” and allocating continuing enrollment expenses and other relevant allowances for league travel, the agreement clearly anticipated a continuation of such participation.

Further, as the trial court did not “change the status quo [or] alter the rights and obligations of the parties,” but merely rejected the unreasonable withholding of consent, we conclude the decision was grounded in enforcement of the existing 7 terms of the judgment, and affirmed.

The opinion is here.

 

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

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

Setting Aside Agreements

Deception Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Marital Settlement Agreements

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

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

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

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

Angels and Demons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Boston Globe article is here.

 

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.

 

Prenups and Threats to Call Off the Wedding

With the wedding season upon us, people are increasingly demanding prenuptial agreements. But many are also asking what is required to get out of the prenup they just signed. For instance, how valid would a Venezuelan prenup be if there were threats to call off the wedding unless it was signed? A Florida court just answered that question.

Prenup Threats

Venezuelan Prenups

In the recent case, the couple planned to marry in Venezuela. But six days before their wedding, the husband presented the wife a draft of a prenuptial agreement in Venezuela. At the time, the wife was four months pregnant with their second child.

The only financial disclosures contained within the document were perfunctory references to the husband’s ownership of certain nominal non-convertible bearer shares with corresponding assigned nominal values.

Interestingly, the agreement did not provide for equitable distribution or alimony. The husband allowed the wife to peruse the document and then assured her that he would furnish full financial disclosures prior to the wedding.

But the day before the wedding, having not yet provided any financial documentation, the husband threatened to cancel the ceremony if the wife did not sign it.

The wife reluctantly signed the prenup and they got married. However, their marriage did not endure. Less than six years later, the husband filed dissolution proceedings in Miami.

The wife tried to invalidate the prenuptial agreement, contending it was the product of “duress, coercion, or overreaching,” and was unconscionable, as it had been executed in the absence of full and fair financial disclosure.

Following an evidentiary hearing, convened to determine the circumstances surrounding the execution of the agreement, the court entered an order. The following week, the parties were due to appear at the United States Embassy in Venezuela with their marriage certificate, in order to establish expatriation eligibility.

Several years later, the husband retained another attorney and sought to have the wife execute a postnuptial agreement, showing he believed the prenuptial agreement was unenforceable under Venezuelan law.

Even though the prenup was entered into by the parties in Venezuela, and Venezuelan law should govern its validity, both parties urged the application of Florida law.

The Florida trial court found the prenuptial agreement had been executed under duress and in the absence of both full financial disclosure and waiver of said disclosure. The husband appealed.

Florida Avoiding Prenups

I have written about prenuptial agreements in Florida before, especially avoiding them. Because of Florida’s policy of enforcing agreements, prenups and postnups can be difficult to void – but not impossible. Florida has both case law and a statute to help lawyers, judges and the parties determine if a prenuptial agreement, for example, is enforceable.

In Florida, to test the validity of a prenuptial agreement, courts must consider things such as fraud, duress, coercion, in addition to the unfairness of the agreement, and whether there was any financial disclosure.

Under Florida’s Uniform Premarital Agreement Act, a prenup may not be enforceable if a party can prove, in part, that it was not signed voluntarily; or was the product of fraud, duress, coercion, or overreaching; or it was unconscionable.

Some of these defenses may also require a party to show they were not given a fair and reasonable disclosure of property, and did not voluntarily and expressly waive that right, and did not have adequate knowledge of the property or financial obligations of the other party.

“No Agreement, No Wedding!”

In Florida, a premarital agreement is not enforceable if the party against whom enforcement is sought proves that the agreement was the product of fraud, duress, coercion, or overreaching.

But what is “duress”? Often, duress is defined as a condition of mind produced by an improper external pressure or influence that practically destroys your free agency and causes you to make a contract not of your own volition.

Proving duress is difficult, and requires showing the prenup was not free choice or will and this condition of mind was caused by some improper and coercive conduct of the opposite side.

In the Venezuelan case, the testimony established that the husband initially presented his pregnant wife with the disputed prenup six days before the wedding. At that time, the wife asked for evidence regarding his net worth. The husband assured the wife such evidence would be forthcoming.

But instead of honoring his pledge, the day before the wedding, the husband demanded she sign the prenup, with the added ultimatum of “no agreement, no wedding.”

However, it is not unusual for people to give an ultimatum that they will not marry their spouse without a prenuptial agreement. Ordinarily, the “no agreement no marriage” ultimatum does not constitute duress because there is nothing improper about taking such a position.

In the recent case though, the Husband also threatened life-altering consequences, by imperiling their shared, long-term plan to begin life anew with their children in the United States. The court found that these circumstances, which were unrebutted by the husband, were sufficient to support a finding of duress.

The opinion is available here.

 

Five Simple Reasons for a Prenup

If you’re planning on getting married this year, you may be thinking about getting a prenuptial agreement. If so, you would not be alone. More and more people have requested prenups in the past few years. Here are five simple reasons why you should consider a prenuptial agreement before you get married.

Prenuptial Agreement

Prepare for the Worst

While I have written on the topic of prenuptial agreements before, U.S. News and World Report offers an article with some pros and cons about prenups you may want to consider. For example, entering a prenup can help you prepare for the worst.

If you watched your parents’ divorce – or have close friends who have divorced – you understand that divorce can happen to anyone.

What you may want to consider is that divorce can be planned for, so that its consequences are less severe on you. For example, a prenup can eliminate stressful issues relating to alimony, property division and your inheritance.

Protection from Debt

A prenup can also protect you from your spouse’s debt. Debt is probably one of the most common reason for a prenup with people going through first-time marriages. Sadly, part of divorce means taking care of debt that was incurred during the divorce.

In a perfect world, both people walk away responsible for the debts they created. Unfortunately, that is not the law.

The problem with debt is especially important today considering how much student debt people are carrying. No one wants to get divorced and add their ex’s graduate school debt to their own. A prenup can help you in dividing debts before they become a problem.

Transparency

A prenup forces you to commit to full transparency when it comes to talking about your finances.

If you openly talk about a prenup, chances are you’ll become better as a couple at discussing details about your finances and other concerns about marriage.

During your conversations with your future spouse, you may also learn some important things about your partner. You may, for example, find out before the wedding that the person you’re going to marry has numerous lawsuits and years of unpaid taxes, what your role as a parent will be, and other issues.

Protect Valuables

A prenuptial agreement can protect valuable assets you want to stay in your family. For example, your grandmother’s diamond ring, that has been in a family for generations, and has acquired a personal significance and sentiment far beyond its market value, could be an heirloom you want to add to an agreement.

A prenup is meant to govern how assets such as investments, grandmother’s diamond ring, and property will be handled if after the marriage you decide to divorce.

Because of the importance of a prenup, if your future spouse comes to you with a prenup, and you haven’t been involved in writing it, you’ll want to bring in your own attorney.

Focus on Your Future

A prenup forces you to focus on the future. This may be a prenup’s biggest advantage and disadvantage. You are able to decide now how to handle and prepare for a future event.

The problem of course, is that no one knows what the future will bring. One person can leave a marriage much wealthier than the other. Or it could go the other way, and you could be contracted to pay your partner far more than you’re able.

That uncertainty about the future doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a prenup. Generally, if you or your partner has a lot to lose in a possible divorce, you should consider getting a prenup. If you own a business, have a large retirement account or assets you want to pass onto your children, a prenup is essential.

The US News and World Report article is here.

 

Goin’ Down for a South Park Prenup

When your marriage is no longer ‘awesome-o’, and your house cannot be described as a ‘Casa Bonita’, what do you do? If you’re Trey Parker, co-creator of South Park, you file for divorce, ask for joint custody, and enforce your South Park prenup.

South Park Prenup

Fishsticks

According to documents obtained by TMZ, Trey Parker recently filed for divorce from his wife, Bookie Parker, a former exotic dancer. The parties were married in 2014, and Trey lists their date of separation as February 28, 2019.

Trey filed the divorce petition in Los Angeles, and they had one daughter together before getting married. Their daughter may have worked on the show, voicing the character Ike, Kyle’s adopted Canadian brother.

Parker, who also co-created Broadway Smash “The Book of Mormon” with long-time creative partner Matt Stone, was previously married to Emma Sugiyama. The couple divorced after two years of marriage.

Parker, 49, asks for his daughter’s legal and physical joint custody. He is also seeking to terminate spousal support on the basis of the couple’s prenuptial agreement.

Lucky for Trey, he reportedly has a prenuptial agreement. These days, the prenup has become more important than ever. People are marrying when they are older, and more people are better informed about the implications of marriage.

And for people like Trey Parker, they are marrying a second time. Like Trey, more people marrying a second time look to have a prenuptial agreements prepared.

Florida Prenuptial Agreements

Prenuptial agreements aren’t just for wealthy Hollywood people like Trey Parker, entering second marriages, they are important for any couple planning to marry. I have written extensively on prenuptial agreements.

A prenup can help keep your non-marital property yours. The property you brought into the marriage is yours – mostly. But over time it is common for people to start mixing things up. Inheritance funds get deposited into joint accounts; properties get transferred into joint names…and all for good reason.

Unfortunately, tracing commingled property is expensive, and hard to prove. But, if you put it in writing at the beginning, you might be able to avoid this task, and save some money down the road.

Prenuptial agreements also help you to change the law. For example, right now in Florida, there were two bills recently introduced at the Legislature, and an ongoing debate, about alimony. When you go to court, a judge has to follow state law regarding alimony.

However, through prenuptial agreements you can modify Florida’s legal standards for awarding alimony, you can terminate it outright in many instances, in addition to modifying what the current law says about the amount of support and the duration of the alimony period.

Second Marriages

This is a second marriage for Trey. For second marriages, a prenup is an especially good idea. What some clients don’t realize is that going through a second, third, or fourth divorce can be more complicated than first-time divorces.

In multiple divorces, couples are older, and have less time to make up for losses. Also, couples are competing for dwindling resources. Child-support, alimony, and dividing up of the retirement accounts may still be pending, and there can be little left to divide in a second divorce.

Some can simply state what assets each party has brought into the marriage, and what assets each party will take away if the marriage ends. Or, if there is a disparity in incomes, you can add to the contract how much the lower-income spouse will receive.

Imaginationland

As noted in the article, Trey is asking the court to enforce the prenuptial agreement he signed with Boogie Parker enforced. Trey has a net worth estimated to be $500,000,000 from his ventures as the co-creator of South Park and play The Book of Mormon among others.

Trey’s first marriage to This is also Parker’s second marriage after previously being married from 2006 to 2008.

The New York Daily News article is here.

Image attribution Gage Skidmore

 

Happy “Good Divorce Week”?

Well it is the holiday season. According to the Financial Times, it’s “Good Divorce Week” (that’s really a thing). In Britain the aim is to help resolve a divorce in a constructive way and minimize the impact on children. The idea may work well here too.

Divorce

The Long and Winding Road

For most people — especially those going through a separation — a “good divorce” sounds like an oxymoron. Contentious splits are common, and likely to involve a lot of wasted time, anger and money.

But going to court is not the best way to resolve family issues. Mediation and negotiation can be cheaper, quicker and less stressful.

Increasingly, the collaborative process is becoming more widely requested by clients and helps keep costs and anger down.

Why do people in the UK divorce? According to the article, unreasonable behavior is the most common basis for divorce — accounting for 52% of divorce petitions brought by women, and 37% of those by men. However, research says adultery is the most common reason for divorce, followed by couples growing apart, struggling with money issues, abuse and addiction.

Let it Be: Florida Divorce

I’ve written about divorces before, and the “good divorce” too. Historically in Florida, in order to obtain a divorce, one had to prove the existence of legal grounds such as adultery. This often-required additional expenses on behalf of the aggrieved party, only serving to make the divorce process more expensive and cumbersome than it already was.

Florida Statutes actually still provide that these things may be considered under certain circumstances in the award of alimony, equitable distribution of marital assets and liabilities, and determination of parental responsibility. However, case authority shows little consideration from a legal perspective, relegating them to more of an emotional appeal.

In the years leading up to the enactment of “no-fault” divorce, courts often granted divorces on bases that were easier to prove, the most common being “mental cruelty.”

In Florida, 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 before filing the petition, and the marriage is irretrievably broken.

Back in the UK

Sarah Coles, has been researching the costs of divorce in the UK, and how a good divorce can reduce these. For starters, fighting in court can be expensive, so you need to ask yourself whether you really need to fight over who gets the pots and pans.

Mediation can dramatically cut costs of a divorce. If you have a reasonably good and equal relationship with your ex, this brings you together in a room with a single lawyer to hammer out the details.

To enable this, separating couples need to keep the channels of communication open.

Unsurprisingly, it is the financial settlement that causes huge stress. The article advises couples to decide their priorities when it comes to finances and matters relating to their children.

Remember that a bad credit record can affect you both, and that if you move out of the family home, but are still named on the mortgage, you are still jointly liable for the monthly repayments.

The Financial Times article is here.

 

World Emoji Day ????

Incredibly, I overlooked World Emoji Day. Although late, in honor of yesterday’s World Emoji Day, it’s worth pointing out that my new article on emojis and legal ambiguity in agreements, which was recently published in the Florida Bar Family Law Section Commentator, will make anyone ????.

Ambiguous Divorce Agreements

Emojis

I’ve written about emojis before. Originating in Japan in 1998, emojis are small digital images used to express an idea or an emotion in electronic communications.

Today, roughly 70 percent of the public uses some type of social media.  Social media has changed many of the ways in which we communicate. For one thing, social media has increased our use of emojis.

One report found more than 92 percent of people use emojis on social media. Emojis have spread to the business world, where nearly half of workers add emojis to professional communications, and companies use them to increase sales and brand awareness.

Emojis in Court ????‍⚖️

Emojis are increasingly turning up in court, especially in agreements, and ignoring them would be like calling a witness to the stand and ignoring their facial expressions.

Emojis fail the ‘duck test’: if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is probably a duck. That’s because emoji meanings can be so puzzling, a “duck” emoji, may mean anything but a duck.

For example, a U.S. federal court recently held that a “Smiley” emoticon =) converted an email into a joke, the email meant the opposite of what it said, and a criminal defendant’s lawyer did not violate the Sixth Amendment by sending the prosecutor an email joking: “stipulate that my client is guilty. :)”

An Israeli court awarded damages based on emojis after a prospective tenant sent a landlord a text about a lease agreement saying: “Good morning ???? we want the house???????? ????‍ ✌ ☄ ???? ???? just need to go over the details. . .” The landlord removed his ad, then the tenant disappeared. The court awarded the landlord 8,000 shekels.

Ambiguity: What does ???? Mean?

There are unique issues with emojis, rendering them hard to interpret. For one thing, there’s no definitive source as to what emojis mean.

That unknown can make agreements in an email, a text or an actual marital contract, ambiguous. Marital agreements are interpreted like any other contract. Basic interpretation begins with the plain language of the contract, because the contract language is the best evidence of intent.

Courts are not supposed to rewrite terms of an agreement if they are clear and unambiguous. Anyone seeking to show a court any evidence outside a fully integrated contract, must first establish that a contract is ambiguous.

A contract is ambiguous when its language is reasonably susceptible to more than one interpretation. That’s where emojis come in, they can be very ambiguous. Emojis are also small, making them hard to read. Interpreting an emoji can depend on what kind of device they appear in. For example, a 24-inch computer monitor displays thing differently than a 4-inch phone screen.

Emojis don’t always mean the same thing universally, so there can be many different meanings depending on which country you are in. For example:

????

The “Folded Hands” emoji symbolize “please” and “thank you” in Asia. However, in the U.S. it means: “I’m praying,” and frequently, “high-five”!

????

The “Pile of Poo” emoji is a pun on the Japanese word for excrement (unko), which starts with the same “oon” sound as the word for “luck” and is complimentary in Japan. But, in the U.S. the emoji is used to express contempt. Strangely, Canadians use the emoji the most.

Information on World Emoji Day is available here.

 

Prenuptial Agreements in Jeopardy

Many people are starting to notice that the new tax law could wreak havoc on their prenuptial agreement. If you are planning on getting married this summer, here’s a few things to consider before signing that prenup.

Prenuptial Agreements

I’ve written about prenuptial agreements before. Prenuptial agreements, or prenups, are agreements you sign with your fiancé before marriage that outline how you two would end up in case of divorce or death.

A prenup can resolve things like alimony, ownership of businesses, title of properties, and even each spouse’s financial responsibilities during the marriage.

There are many other concerns that can be addressed in the prenup:

  • Caring for a parent
  • Going back to school
  • Shopping habits
  • Credit card debt;
  • Tax liabilities;
  • Alimony and child support from previous relationships; and
  • Death or disability.

A few of the points of a prenup, is that you get to decide on the amount of alimony, the terms of alimony or whether you will pay any alimony at all, and how to divide movie royalties and other assets.

And because prenuptial agreements can impact how much alimony you agreed to pay or received, the new tax overhaul comes into play heavily in your agreement.

Tax Law Overhaul and Alimony

The new tax law offers an avenue for challenge because courts will likely have to consider how the law has changed since the contracts were created.

For example, beginning in 2019, people paying alimony will be no longer be able to deduct their alimony payments. That little change in the law could mean they effectively pay double in post-tax costs compared to what they had previously agreed to in their prenups.

President Trump, who pushed the new tax law, told New York Magazine in 2006 that his prenup with Melania Trump made his marriage stronger despite being a “hard, painful, ugly tool,” he didn’t disclose any details of the agreement.

More than 60% of divorce attorneys said they had seen a rise in the number of clients seeking prenups in the previous three years, while just 1% reported a drop.

There aren’t hard numbers, but it’s fair to say that prenups have become more popular in recent years as younger Americans delay marriage, and the divorce rate has skyrocketed for people over 50 who often use prenups if they remarry.

Prenups and New Tax Changes

If prenuptial agreements aren’t amended to factor in the tax changes, it will be up to divorce attorneys to settle — or judges to decide — whether the amounts or formulas still stand for couples who divorce starting in 2019.

Even if both parties agree to an adjustment in alimony, they’ll need to agree on exactly how much to cut the payers’ obligations. Divorcing couples could end up hiring rival accountants as expert witnesses to sway judges.

For those in the top income-tax bracket — the likeliest to have a prenup — being able to deduct the payout from taxable income had been a big saving because every dollar in alimony reduces the payer’s taxable income by the same amount.

Top earners in high-tax areas like California and New York City can face marginal tax rates close to 50 percent. Without the deduction, a spouse who agreed to write a $10,000 check each month could be on the hook for what is effectively almost $20,000 in pre-tax income.

Lawmakers said they eliminated the alimony deduction to end what they called a “divorce subsidy” under the old law.

The change, which raises an estimated $6.9 billion over the next decade, doesn’t affect divorces and separation agreements finalized before the end of 2018.

However, next year the newly divorced won’t be able to deduct alimony payments, but recipients will get the money tax-free (previously, the payments had to be reported as part of their taxable income).

Ultimately, the change could hurt alimony recipients. Payers could plead with judges to revise their obligations given the new law — a valid legal argument given that many prenups specifically mention that the payments are intended be deductible.

Those potentially reduced payments are likely to overpower the benefit recipients get from being able to receive the payments tax-free because they tend to be in lower tax brackets than the payers.

The Bloomberg article is here.

 

Daredevil without a Prenup

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner have not resolved their jointly filed divorce one year after filing. Reports suggest they never had a prenuptial agreement, which may be the reason the divorce is taking so long after they filed.

Gone Girl

The actors filed to end their 10-year marriage on April 13, 2016, nearly two years after they originally announced their split, but there are no reports of a prenuptial agreement filed.

The divorce isn’t finalized and the two have been in mediation to settle privately. The actors are seeking joint physical and legal custody of their three children.

Affleck and Garner, costarred in 2003’s “Daredevil” and wed in 2005. They announced their intention to divorce in June 2015, after 10 years of marriage, but did not file documents until now.

“After much thought and careful consideration, we have made the difficult decision to divorce,” the couple said in a joint statement in 2015.

According to TMZ, Affleck and Garner do not have a prenuptial agreement, meaning everything is on the table for negotiation and possibly trial.

Prenuptial Agreements

I’ve written about prenuptial agreements before.

Many people think prenuptial agreements are for actors such as Affleck and Gardner. That is just fiction out of Hollywoodland. Even if you don’t enter a marriage with Affleck’s wealth, it might not be a bad idea to have a prenup.

The lack of a prenuptial agreement for Affleck has probably means that a lot of issues they could have resolved at the beginning of the marriage, may have to be fought over the past year since they’ve filed..

Prenuptial agreements, or “prenups,” are contracts entered into before marriage that outline the division of assets in case of divorce or death.

A prenup can resolve things like alimony, ownership of businesses, title of properties, and even each spouse’s financial responsibilities during the marriage.

There are many other concerns that can be addressed in the prenup:

  • Caring for a parent
  • Going back to school
  • Shopping habits
  • Credit card debt;
  • Tax liabilities;
  • Alimony and child support from previous relationships; and
  • Death or disability.

A few of the points of a prenup, is that you get to decide on the amount of alimony, the terms of alimony or whether you will pay any alimony at all, and how to divide movie royalties and other assets.

Chasing Amy

Putting aside the lack of a prenuptial agreement, Affleck and Gardner seem to be doing well by their children. The whole Affleck Gardner family recently made a group trip to Sea Life Park in Oahu. “During the trip, Garner stayed at a resort while Affleck stayed at a nearby house. Additionally, there are reports that Affleck is looking to buy a home near Garner in Los Angeles.

“Ben is looking to buy a family friendly house,” a source previously told PEOPLE in October 2017. “Lindsay shared her opinions, but it was clear that they are not buying a house together.”

Affleck had been living in a rental since he moved out of the family estate he used to share with Garner. Prior to their divorce filing last April, he was living in the family’s guesthouse.

The Los Angeles Times article is here.