Articles Posted in Family Law

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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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