Tag: modification of 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.

 

Modification of Alimony and Support, and some great Coronavirus information

More and more of my clients are asking about modification of alimony and child support because they or their Ex has lost jobs or seen their incomes slashed. There is also a wealth of information about the coronavirus, and one video in particular is a standout.

Alimony Modification

Life in the Coronavirus Economy

We didn’t just pass a $2 Trillion aid package for no reason. Markets have suffered, restaurants, bars and other businesses across the country have closed or are limping along until the market returns.

Employers have furloughed employees or reduced staffing in order to prevent the spread of the cornavirus and manage the economic impact it has created. For many people, this impacts their bottom line.

What if you or your ex-spouse or co-parent has alimony or child support obligations that can no longer be paid as a result of reduced income? Or what if you have lost your job and need additional support?

The time to act may be now in order to get the right information, preserve your legal rights, even while you are trying to work cooperatively with your Ex for the benefit of everyone in the family.

Florida Alimony and Child Support Modification

I recently spoke at the Florida Bar Family Law Section/AAML Certification Review Course in Orlando on the topic of Modifications. There are a few reasons why alimony and child support can be modified.

Dramatic changes brought on by the Coronavirus in people’s health, inability to go back to work, substantial drops and rises in pay, big gifts or lottery winnings, loss of jobs, furloughing, and early retirement are the major forces behind alimony and child support modification.

In Florida, to modify alimony and child support, you have to show three fundamental things: a substantial change in circumstances, the change was not contemplated at the time of the final judgment of dissolution, and that the change is sufficient, material, involuntary and permanent in nature.

Florida courts have discretion to modify alimony and child support retroactively to the date of the original filing of the action to modify, or supplemental action for modification depending on the cause.

It is important to keep in mind that you have to take the initiative, a court will not increase or reduce or terminate your alimony and child support payments if you have not filed the appropriate pleadings.

Simply not paying alimony and child support could cause the court to issue sanctions, pay the other side’s attorney’s fees, have your driver’s license suspended, or possibly even jail.

Great Coronavirus Information

There’s an excellent and instructive video from Dr. David Price of the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City who is treating COVID-19 patients. Dr. Price shares information in a Zoom call with his family and friends on protecting yourself during the COVID-19 pandemic. Well worth a look. Some important take aways:

  • Clean your hands.
  • Wear a mask outside – not to prevent breathing in the coronavirus – but because your less likely to touch your face.
  • Stay away from people. Distance yourself from other people outside of your quarantine. Stand a 3-6 feet back.
  • Shrink your social circle. Find your isolation group and keep. It is the people maintaining large social circles who are catching and spreading COVID-19.
  • What if you catch COVID-19?

Throughout the world, the way the COVID-19 disease has been transmitted is primarily through family and your close contacts: dads and sons, husbands and wives, romantic partners, etc. If you develop a fever, isolate yourself from your family and the same rules apply: no-sustained contact to avoid picking it up. Ideally, the sick should have their own bathroom, their own bedroom, one medical mask is needed . . . on the person who is sick.

The video 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.

 

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.