Tag: property division divorce

Property Division and the Family Castle

For many American families, their home is their castle. When divorce is on the horizon, your castle may fall under attack. Florida’s property division statute requires an equitable distribution of all marital property, but it is not a how-to guide. Money magazine has an article looking at some of your options.

Property Division Castle2

The Coronavirus Crash

Before the silent enemy Covid-19 hit us, the median value of a home in the U.S. was $247,084, and the average amount of mortgage debt a person topped $202,000.

With many experts predicting the coronavirus siege will lead to a surge in divorce, deciding how to deal with your marital home – and its accompanying debt – can be a dangerous financial burden in every case. Below are some strategies to defend your castle.

Selling the Castle

For many couples simply putting a shared home up for sale may seem like the simplest solution, but remember, that step won’t automatically erase all mortgage headaches or end the need to co-operate with your former spouse.

You will still need to agree on a realtor and asking price as well as determine how the continuing mortgage payments will be made. Will you be splitting the expense 50/50? Will the spouse who continues living there make the full payment?

If your home sells for more than the outstanding balance on the mortgage, how will the remaining proceeds be divided between you both after settling the joint debt? Worse, if you end up underwater on the mortgage, you’ll have to decide if you can even afford to sell it and how you’ll pay off the remaining debt if you do.

There are also the taxes. You can each exclude the first $250,000  in capital gains — the amount your home has appreciated in value since you bought it — from your taxable income, if the home was your primary residence and you owned it for more than two years.

If you opt to file a joint tax return, you can exclude up to $500,000. Earnings above that exclusion or on the sale of, say, a vacation property, could stick you with a tax bill.

Keeping the Home

Divorce upends life, and it makes sense that a majority of the time at least one spouse isn’t ready to leave the marital home and add the stress of moving to their to-do list.

The idea of remaining in a familiar, comfortable home can seem even more compelling when there are children who might have to change schools or leave behind friends.

But many financial advisors and divorce attorneys caution against keeping your old home after a divorce, calling it one of the biggest mistakes you can make during the process.

If you want to remain living in the home you once shared with your ex-spouse, you need to carefully review your budget and weigh whether you can individually afford it.

Refinancing the Mortgage

If you have $50,000 in equity in your current home and you’ve agreed to a 50-50 split of its value, you’ll need to come up with $25,000 to buy out your former spouse. In return, your ex-spouse should remove their name from the property title, typically using a quitclaim deed.

If you don’t have the cash, you might need to give up other assets in the divorce negotiations equal to the home’s equity, such as your investment account, 401(k) or IRA.

However, qualifying as a single person can be challenging as lenders will examine your individual earnings, credit history, and savings to see if they believe you’re capable of repaying the loan.

Staying Co-owners of the Manor

If you are unable to refinance or payoff the mortgage, you may be able to keep the status quo. This is not recommended, as it requires a high degree of trust in your former spouse.

Since both your names will remain on the home and on the mortgage, you’ll both be liable for making payments. Should your ex-spouse stop contributing their share, you could face more debt, foreclosure, bankruptcy or poor credit.

Florida Property Division

I’ve written about houses and property divisions before. In Florida, every divorce proceeding the court has to set apart nonmarital property, and distribute the marital property.

Florida judges always begin with the premise that the property distribution should be equal, unless there is a reason for an unequal distribution based on several factors.

One of the factors the court has to consider is the desirability of keeping the home for the kids or a spouse, if it’s equitable to do so, if it’s in the best interest of the child, and financially feasible.

However, whether keeping the home for yourself or the kids is financially feasible requires you to have an honest look at what you can and can’t afford. Some strategies to keep the home include:

Raiding Savings

While not the best solution, pulling from savings can help you keep hold of the home. By obtaining a court ordered qualified domestic relations order or QDRO, you can gain access to a portion of your ex-spouse’s employee retirement plan assets.

Such funds may not be subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty for people under age 59.5, meaning you’ll save more on taxes by using this money to secure your home than you would by tapping other accounts you may have.

Alternatively, if you have Roth IRA savings, you could pull an amount equal to what you’ve contributed tax and penalty free, again making it a smarter way to meet your mortgage payment needs.

Raising Rents

If you’re really determined to keep the home, but cannot pull from savings or refinance, it might be worth brainstorming ways you can earn income from it to help cover the mortgage and upkeep costs.

Renting out the whole home while you’re on vacation – or even just a bedroom or two when in town – could make you hundreds a night. Airbnb hosts, for instance, can make over $900 a month according to research.

If you can’t refinance the mortgage in your own name, keeping the home isn’t a wise decision. It is better to restructure your life in a way that makes sense in the long run, rather than pillage your other financial accounts.

The Money article is here.

 

A Strange New World of Equitable Distribution

Divorce typically involves dividing up the marital property. Every case can be different in what there is for equitable distribution. Houses and retirement accounts are pretty common, and collectible cards and dolls are rarer, but actor William Shatner’s divorce involved something truly strange: horse semen.

Equitable Distrib Horse Semen

To Seek Out New Life

Actor, William Shatner, famous for his role as captain of the Star Trek Enterprise, was recently awarded horse breeding equipment in his divorce settlement with ex-wife Elizabeth Shatner.

The actor’s divorce was settled in Los Angeles Superior Court Tuesday, according to court records. They separated from one another in February 2019.

But the most interesting part of the former “Star Trek” actor’s divorce is what he wanted as equitable distribution. Shatner, who is a horse breeder, will get “all horse semen” as a part of the settlement.

Wine, pets, antique rifles, baseball cards, sports memorabilia are some of the more unique “assets” many of my cases involved. Like any important asset, horses can be a challenging asset to divide.

Valuation of horses can requires knowing their training, winnings, and earnings. Horse ownership also requires knowing the horse’s board, routine maintenance, insurance costs, breeding rights, showing rights, and cash earnings from breed organizations.

Interestingly, the horse’s frozen semen is often extremely valuable and must be spelled out in any divorce order or agreement along with rights to any potential offspring.

That’s because a horse’s DNA and cloning are big topics in the horse industry. The issue of equitable distribution is also complicated by the fact that it is not just the rights to a horse but also the rights to the horse’s DNA, and the rights to any cloning of the horse.

Florida Equitable Distribution

Does a family court have to distribute horse semen? I have written about property division, called “equitable distribution” in Florida, before. Florida is an equitable distribution state when it comes to dividing business assets in divorce.

That means that in a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, in addition to all other remedies available to a court to do equity between the parties, a court must set apart to each spouse that spouse’s non-marital assets and liabilities.

When distributing the marital assets between spouses, a family court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution based on all relevant factors.

Boldly Going Where Few Men Have Gone Before

As additional equitable distribution, the Shatners divided their four horses between them. The captain will get “Renaissance Man’s Medici” and “Powder River Shirley”, while his ex-wife will get “Belle Reve’s So Photogenic” and “Pebbles”.

This is not the first horse semen rodeo for Shatner. He was sued in 2003 by ex-wife Marcy Lafferty Shatner, who claimed he violated the equitable distribution settlement in their 1995 divorce that allowed her one breeding privilege per calendar year with their American saddlebred stallions.

William and Elizabeth Shatner also divided their homes, including a home in Versailles, Kentucky that Elizabeth will get. In 2018, Shatner tweeted that he only visits his Kentucky home “once or twice a year.” But perhaps now it’s his old Kentucky home.

William and Elizabeth Shatner raised and trained American saddlebreds at their Versailles farm. He had homes in Kentucky, including Lexington, since the mid-1980s.

The couple will not receive any financial support from one another as a part of the settlement. They were married for 18 years.

The Lexington Herald Leader article is here.

 

A Slice of Equitable Distribution and Alimony

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

Slice of Equitable Distribution

When the Moon Hits Your Eye

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alimony, Equitable Distribution, and the Length of Marriage

In Florida, the duration of marriage is an important topping in divorce cases. I’ve written about the types of alimony awards available in Florida before. For instance, Florida Statutes dealing with alimony specifically limit the type of alimony awards based on the duration of the marriage.

So, for determining alimony, there is a rebuttable presumption that a short-term marriage is a marriage less than 7-years, a moderate-term marriage is greater than 7-years but less than 17-years, and long-term marriage is 17-years or greater.

Florida defines the duration of marriage as the period of time from the date of marriage until the date of filing of an action for dissolution of marriage.

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

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

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

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

Pizza Ready?

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

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

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

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

The NBC News article is here.

 

Enforcing a Gusher of an Equitable Distribution Award

After his divorce, Todd Kozel, a former oil executive, was ordered by a family court to transfer 23 million shares from his oil company to his wife as equitable distribution. When he didn’t, a $38 million judgment was entered against him. Why was that enforcement order overturned?

Equitable Distribution Oil

Striking Oil

Todd and Ashley married in 1992, and she filed for divorce in 2010. Todd is the chief executive officer of Gulf Keystone Petroleum, Ltd., an oil and gas exploration company.

When the parties divorced, much of their shared wealth consisted of Gulf Keystone stock, which is publicly traded in London. The parties settled after he agreed to transfer Gulf Keystone stock to Ashley as equitable distribution.

Under their Settlement Agreement, the husband was obligated to transfer twenty-three million shares of Gulf Keystone stock to his wife as equitable distribution on or before January 27, 2012. Upon delivery, the former wife would then be free to sell her stock to anyone at any time.

But Todd didn’t deliver his twenty-three-million shares by January 27, 2012. Instead, he transferred the stock to her in four batches at later dates: (1) 2,034,447 shares on January 30, 2012; (2) 3,798,886 shares on February 3, 2012; (3) 5,666,667 shares on February 21, 2012; and (4) 11,600,000 shares on March 1, 2012.

Invoking the trial court’s continuing jurisdiction to enforce the agreement, Ashley filed papers with the family court. Although her filings were styled as petitions to enforce the agreement, they alleged what amounted to claims for money damages for alleged breaches of their agreement.

After granting partial summary judgment on liability and holding a trial on damages, the family court found Todd in breach and awarded her: $34,611,702 as damages for his failure to deliver the stock on time and another $3,850,500 as damages for the breach to provide tax information.

Florida Equitable Distribution

Why was Ashley awarded so much of Todd’s Gulf Keystone stock? I have written about equitable distribution before. Florida is an equitable distribution state when it comes to dividing business assets in divorce.

In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, in addition to all other remedies available to a court to do equity between the parties, a court must set apart to each spouse that spouse’s non-marital assets and liabilities.

When distributing the marital assets between spouses, a family court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution based on all relevant factors.

When the Oil Runs Out

While Todd was in default for his failure to timely deliver the Gulf Keystone stock, he made all of the additional equitable distribution payments required. On November 28, 2012 — eight months after the final transfer of stock — Ashley argued that Todd’s breach of the agreement caused her to suffer substantial damages because it denied her an opportunity to sell the stock at a time when market conditions were favorable.

But Todd argued that a family court lacks jurisdiction to consider Ashley’s claim because what she was asking for amounted to a claim for general damages for breach of contract.

So, Ashley amended her petition, styling it as one to “enforce” the agreement. She alleged that the court had jurisdiction to enforce the agreement through an award of damages for losses that she allegedly incurred as a result of the failure to deliver the stock timely.

The family judge awarded her $34,611,702 and another for the tax basis dispute $3,850,500, to be placed in escrow (presumably pending the outcome of a refund request to the IRS).

The question in a case like this is whether and to what extent a family court’s continuing jurisdiction to enforce a final judgment extends to claims for money damages for breaches of a settlement agreement.

When a court orders compliance with the terms of a settlement agreement – when it requires a party to perform an obligation in the agreement — it is engaged in proper post-judgment enforcement over which it has continuing jurisdiction. But when a court awards damages as a substitute for a party’s performance, it is not engaging in legitimate post-judgment enforcement but a separate claim for breach.

The former wife sought and the family court awarded general, benefit-of-the-bargain damages for the breach of the agreement that was not specified in the agreement. In reversing the judgement, the appellate court ruled that “couching these remedies as “enforcement” of the [agreement] does not change what their substance is: general damages for breach.”

The opinion is here.

 

Dividing the Iron Throne: Divorce and Streaming Services

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

Game of Groans

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

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

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

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

Florida Divorce and Streaming Services

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

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

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

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

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

No Battle for Winterfell?

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

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

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

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