Articles Posted in Family Law

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If you are someone with high-value assets, a prenuptial agreement can be a vital part of your premarital planning. A well-drafted prenuptial agreement can offer a strong degree of protection in the possibility of a future divorce. In the case of one Florida man, his prenuptial agreement offered protection not when he divorced but when he died. In a recent ruling, the Second District Court of Appeal decided that the man and his wife’s prenuptial agreement prevented her from getting an additional half-million dollar payment from the man’s estate.

The case centered on the 2009 prenuptial agreement signed by Natalia and Andrew Shaw. Prenuptial agreements can provide certain protections to each spouse, especially in situations in which the spouses enter the marriage with high-value collections of assets. In the Shaws’ situation, they agreed that the wife would, upon the occasion of the husband’s death, receive the sum of one-half million dollars, as long as neither of them had filed for divorce prior to the man’s death.

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A recent decision entered by the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach offers a stern warning to spouses who use misconduct in order to gain access to marital funds to invest. The case makes clear that one of the potential risks of engaging in misconduct in order to make an investment may be shouldering the full amount of the debt should you and your spouse divorce. In the Fifth Circuit case, a director of, and investor in, a Florida bank that failed had a $100,000 loan count as his separate, non-marital debt because he forged his wife’s signature on the loan documents.

Barry Mills was on the Board of Directors and a major investor in Florida State Bank, a startup bank established in 2007. Each of the bank’s directors was required to make an investment, and Mills’ portion was more than a quarter-million dollars. Mills’ wife, Brenda Mills, knew that her husband was a director of, and investor in, the bank, but she did not know the extent of the investment. Since the husband did not have sufficient cash available to make the full required investment, he acquired an additional $100,000 by taking out a second mortgage on the marital home. Fearing that the wife would not approve of the investment and the second mortgage, the husband did not ask her to sign the loan documents and instead forged her signature on the paperwork.

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Dividing a couple’s assets as part of a divorce case is often a challenging task in many situations. This can be especially so in cases involving spouses who own businesses. The case may present issues of high-value assets, debts, or both, depending on the business’ success or failure. In one long-running South Florida case involving a dentist and his wife, the husband lost his effort to increase the negative-value calculation of his business because, according to a 4th District Court of Appeal ruling, he was not entitled to offer new evidence about the value of his practice when the case went back before the trial court after an appeal. The value of the couple’s assets was not one of the issues sent back to the trial court by the appeals court, so the admission of that evidence and the resulting change in the couple’s equitable distribution should never have happened.

The couple’s divorce case actually began several years ago. In the original case, the husband put forward evidence that his dental practice was actually deeply in the red. After the trial court issued its order of dissolution, the husband pursued an appeal on several grounds, including the way in which the court treated the couple’s home in the equitable distribution and the requirement that the husband obtain and maintain a $2 million life insurance policy to protect the alimony and child support awards. The husband also argued that the trial court failed to account for the negative value of his dental practice.

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A significant new Florida Supreme Court ruling offers some clarity into what had previously been a murky issue within family law:  namely, the interpretation of certain waivers within premarital agreements. For individuals with high-value assets, the court’s new decision provides some helpful insight into the ways that the law allows you to structure your prenuptial agreements in order to ensure your assets are fully protected from a claim within a divorce proceeding.

The case centered on the divorce of Harry Hahamovitch, a successful mortgage broker from Palm Beach County, and Dianne Hahamovitch, his wife. In 1986, a month before they wed, the couple entered into a prenuptial agreement. That agreement contained several provisions for the separation of property between the two spouses-to-be. The agreement stated that any separate property a spouse brought into the marriage remained that person’s separate property. Also, if the husband bought property during the marriage in his name alone, that property would remain the husband’s separate property.

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A wife’s effort to obtain a portion of the increased value of her husband’s multi-million dollar ownership interest in a Palm Beach County auto dealership as part of the couple’s divorce failed because, according to a 4th District Court of Appeal ruling, the prenuptial agreement she signed effectively waived her right to pursue such claims. Even if it hadn’t, the dealership’s rise in value was not due to the husband’s active efforts during the marriage, so the wife wouldn’t have been entitled to an equitable distribution anyway.

The dealership at the center of the case was Delray Motors in Delray Beach, founded by Ed Young in 1958. The business comprised a new-and-used auto dealership and a highly successful wholesale parts department. In 2002, Young’s son, Roy Timothy Young, purchased a 20% share of the business from his father. In 2010, the son’s wife of 14 years filed for divorce. As part of the equitable distribution she sought in the divorce, she challenged the validity of the prenuptial agreement the couple signed back in 1996 and asserted a claim to half of the 20% ownership purchase her husband made eight years earlier in the multi-million auto business.

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Regardless of whether a divorce involves a couple who are worth billions or who are virtually penniless, two integral criteria factor into calculating alimony:  the receiving spouse’s need and the paying spouse’s ability to pay. In the case of one multi-million dollar Florida divorce, the 2d District Court of Appeal reversed an award of permanent, periodic alimony not because it exceeded the husband’s ability to pay but because it was greater than what the wife had established that she needed.

The couple in this case was Michael Sikora and his wife, Carole Sikora. The husband was a manager of a group of large, national law firms, and, at one point, his income exceeded $1 million per year. In 2011, Sikora and his wife, after 31 years of marriage, began divorce proceedings. The evidence indicated that the couple had a net worth of $4 million, which the trial court’s equitable distribution award split roughly 50-50.

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