Articles Posted in Family Law

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There are many reasons why two people from two “different worlds” might decide to get married and begin a life together. When they do, especially if those differences include vast financial ones, a prenuptial agreement may be very helpful. A prenup doesn’t necessarily mean that the wealthier spouse-to-be views the less wealthy spouse-to-be as merely a “gold digger.” For many couples, a prenuptial agreement can be a beneficial and pro-active step to ensure that, should the marriage not make it “until death do us part,” that they, and not a court, will be in control of what happens to the assets post-divorce. If that’s you then, before you start down the road of executing a prenuptial agreement, make sure you have representation from a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney so that you can end up with a prenuptial agreement strong enough to withstand any legal challenges that may come later.

A recent prenuptial agreement case from the Keys was an example of two spouses from two very different backgrounds. When the pair met in the spring of 2001, he was a 41-year-old divorcee and commercial airline pilot with a personal net worth of several million dollars. She was an 18-year-old Colombian citizen with “the equivalent of a high school education.”

Just days after the pair met, they became engaged. They married just three months after first meeting. It was an eventful three months that included a premarital pregnancy and an abortion.

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Many divorces by middle-class or working-class couples without children, no matter how complex emotionally, may be relatively simple from a legal perspective. The spouses often need only to divide up a marital house, the vehicles, banking and financial accounts and basic personal property. A high-asset divorce, by contrast, is often much more complicated. The spouses may own businesses, commercial real estate, significant investments or other items with large values. If that’s you, then, as you enter this profound transition in your life, make sure you have a skilled South Florida divorce attorney by your side to protect you and ensure that you get everything you should in your divorce judgment.

When it comes to getting a divorce judgment that gives you everything that’s rightfully yours, one essential thing is to make sure your separate property is recognized as such. If, for example, you own properties that you bought before your marriage, you want to be sure that they remain 100% yours at the conclusion of your divorce process.

That was what one Tampa Bay area husband was fighting for in his recent divorce case. He had purchased several parcels of real estate prior to the marriage, and bought one more during the marriage. The husband purchased the final parcel by increasing the mortgage on the other parcels.

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There are a wide variety of Floridians who have the potential to find themselves facing a high-asset divorce: professional athletes, actors or models, people who have inherited massive wealth, people who own businesses or people who have accumulated substantial wealth through passive investments. For any of these people, a divorce presents the possibility that a soon-to-be ex-spouse may attempt to obtain a share of assets that were not part of the marriage and should not be subject to equitable distribution. To prevent that, be sure you have the legal representation you need from an experienced South Florida family law attorney.

A husband from Naples found himself in that kind of situation in his divorce case recently. He married in 2006 and the wife filed for divorce in 2014. During those eight years, neither the husband nor the wife “was employed or earned a wage income.” The couple lived off loans from the husband’s father, along with passive income and funds from accounts that mostly were solely the husband’s.

During the divorce litigation, the wife asserted that eight of the husband’s investment and banking accounts, along with much of the husband’s stock, were actually marital assets. The trial judge ruled in favor of the wife on six of those eight banking/investment accounts, as well as the stock.

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Contentious divorces can come in all shapes and sizes. When your contentious divorce also involves multiple high-value assets, it can become all the more complex. Your hotly contested battle may impact multiple highly valuable real estate properties and perhaps even affect the control of your businesses. If that’s you, you need the right South Florida family law attorney on your side to provide legal representation that is both thoughtful and, at the same, diligent in protecting your legal rights.

In Miami-Dade County, at least one such contentious contest played out recently. The ex-spouses were music superstar Phil Collins and his ex-wife. The centerpiece of the dispute was a $40 million mansion in Miami Beach. In that legal case, Collins accused the ex-wife, along with her new husband, of enlisting four armed men to take illegal possession of the Miami Beach mansion.

The ex-wife asserted that she did not nothing wrong by taking possession of the mansion even after the divorce. Her argument was that she was entitled to reside at the property due to a “verbal cohabitation agreement” she and Collins had established, according to a Daily Mail report.

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Divorces can often be contentious matters. It may be especially fractious if one of the spouses was allegedly having an affair. If you are facing a high-dollar divorce, it is important to understand how your spouse’s allegations of your infidelity can – and cannot – impact what the judge orders in terms of equitable distribution. To make sure that you don’t get shortchanged and that the distribution you get complies with current Florida law, be sure you have a knowledgeable Florida divorce attorney advocating for you.

H.D. and G.D. were a couple whose divorce case involved allegations of unfaithfulness. The couple married in Cuba in 1967. 48 years later, the husband file for divorce in Miami. The wife asked the judge to award an unequal distribution because of the husband’s adultery. Specifically, the husband allegedly spent marital funds on the mistress and did not collect rent from the mistress (who lived in an East Hialeah rental property that the husband and wife owned.)

The trial judge ruled that the wife was entitled to something called “special equity” and awarded her an unequal distribution. (The wife received $605,000 in assets; the husband $258,000.) The husband appealed that ruling and won his appeal. The trial court’s decision had to be reversed because Florida doesn’t recognize the legal concept of special equity, and hasn’t since 2008.

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If you file for divorce in the wrong place, that error will likely result in a dismissal, costing you valuable time and resources. This risk is a particularly prominent one if yours is a high-dollar divorce. High-asset couples are more likely to have multiple homes, which may give spouses the idea they have more options for where to file than they actually have. Each state has a series of requirements that must be met before the state will allow a person to obtain a judgment of divorce there. Before you proceed with filing your divorce petition with a court in Florida, be sure you have the legal counsel you need from a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney to get your divorce as efficiently and effectively as possible.

R.L. and L.L. were a couple whose divorce case became caught up in this residency requirement. The wife filed for divorce and the trial court awarded her exclusive use of a Pinellas County home as well as nearly $16,000 per month in alimony. The husband, though, appealed and the appeals court ruled in his favor.

The reason this wife’s divorce case unraveled was because of Florida’s rules for subject matter jurisdiction for divorces. “Subject matter jurisdiction” means the legal authority of a court to hear, and issue orders in, particular types of cases. Even if both spouses desire for a Florida court to resolve their divorce case, Florida courts cannot do so if subject matter jurisdiction isn’t there.

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Sometimes, your high-asset divorce can also mean high-dollar misconduct. The breakdown of a marriage can sometimes lead spouses to do things they shouldn’t, like going out and spending large amounts of marital assets on things that don’t benefit the marriage. When that happens, you’ll need to be prepared to take the right action in court in order to make sure that your spouse’s dissipation of assets doesn’t end up counting against you when it comes time for the court to establish an equitable distribution. Whenever you’re faced with this kind of divorce, make sure you protect yourself with an experienced South Florida family law attorney.

A case that originated in the Orlando area is a good example. Both spouses were high-profile and highly successful sports commentary personalities, each with net worth in excess of $5 million. The husband was a highly successful radio and TV host, covering golf and fantasy football, among other things, for several major networks. The wife was also a successful TV commentator, covering golf and football. During the marriage, the husband received a large settlement from one of his previous employers.

In 2016, though, the successful sports commentary couple divorced. Before the divorce was finalized, though, the wife allegedly took a substantial chunk of the husband’s settlement money and spent it on, among other things, $100,000+ of cosmetic procedures at a Beverly Hills dermatologist and over $7,000 on a new dog.

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We’ve mostly all heard the phrase “separation of church and state.” For many folks, though, the process of getting married inherently involves aspects of both secular and religious law. If you and your spouse-to-be seek to make binding promises as part of your religious obligations, it is important to proceed with the aid of a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney. That’s because, if there is eventually a question later about something you or your spouse promised, it will be a Florida civil court and not a religious tribunal that decides the outcome, so you need to be sure that whatever you agreed to can be enforced by the secular courts in Florida.

This issue has popped up in multiple places recently, and two very recent decisions highlight how the courts might handle your religion-influenced case. In Maryland, an Islamic couple had undergone a civil marriage and an Islamic one. In the Islamic process, the husband made a mahr which, according to the Encyclopaedia of Islam, is a gift that the groom “has to give the bride when the contract of marriage is made and which becomes the property of the wife.”

The wife eventually filed in state court in Maryland to compel the husband to fulfill his mahr promise. The court ruled for the wife because it was able to resolve that dispute using solely secular Maryland contract law. The wife won because she had proof of the terms of the agreement, and the husband lacked evidence that the mahr agreement was either unconscionable under Maryland law or the product of “fraud, duress, coercion, mistake, undue influence,” one party’s incompetence or bad faith.

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We can learn a lot sometimes from legal cases involving celebrities. Musician Ric Ocasek, who achieved his greatest notoriety in the 1980s with his band The Cars and who died in 2019, is one such example. His case offers a clear example of how you, as a Floridian, can benefit from completing your divorce promptly or, perhaps even more beneficially, from executing a prenuptial or post-nuptial agreement with your spouse. If you have a large amount of wealth, the difference between doing these things and not doing these things can be millions of dollars. To make sure that your wealth will continue to go where you want it to, even as you contemplate an upcoming marriage or an upcoming divorce, be sure to rely upon an experienced Florida divorce attorney.

In 2018, Ocasek’s wife, model Paulina Porizkova, announced that she and Ocasek had separated in 2017. In September 2019, Ocasek died of natural causes. At the time, he and Porizkova remained married. Later last year, news reports indicated that Ocasek had excluded Porizkova from his will. The will stated that the pair were “in the process of divorcing” and that Porizkova was not entitled to anything from his estate “because she has abandoned me,” according to People.com. Ocasek’s estate included $5 million just in copyrights.

Ocasek died in New York City and his probate estate will not be administered in Florida. However, for many people, especially people with high dollar estates, it is very important to look at a case like Ocasek’s and understand the impact of a divorce on your probate estate. The Florida Statutes have something called a “spousal share” for surviving spouses. That law says that, if your spouse survives you, she can “elect” to receive 30% of your estate, regardless of what your estate planning documents say. (That’s true even if your documents expressly say she should receive nothing.)

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Recently, singer/actor Justin Timberlake made the celebrity gossip and entertainment news after he was spotted holding hands with his costar from his latest movie, fueling rumors that Timberlake was having an affair with the actress. Timberlake and his wife, according to the New York Daily News, have a prenuptial agreement that says that, if Timberlake cheats and the couple divorces, his infidelity would result in his wife receiving an extra $500,000 in the divorce settlement. That sum would be small compared to actor Michael Douglas, who would owe an extra $5 million if he cheated on wife Catherine Zeta-Jones and the pair divorced, according to the Daily News.

These types of provisions in prenuptial agreements, which are generally dubbed “lifestyle’ clauses, can address everything from sexual fidelity to a spouse’s weight to the frequency of sex…even down to how often the in-laws visit, and they are increasing in popularity. If you desire to learn more about the creation or the enforcement of your prenuptial agreement with a lifestyle clause, be sure to retain an experienced Florida prenuptial agreement attorney.

If you are in a position of high visibility in South Florida business and/or society, you probably have certain expectations of your partner… expectations you might desire to be placed in a prenuptial agreement. As a person of social and/or professional prominence, you might be concerned that a husband who notoriously cheats on you could damage your standing in society, and so desire a fidelity clause in your prenup. Alternately, you might be a high-powered business professional who’s concerned that a wife whose appearance goes from South Beach supermodel to obese could harm your business prospects by negatively impacting your professional “brand,” thereby making you interested in a weight (or similar appearance) clause in your prenup.

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