Articles Posted in Marital Settlement Agreements

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Divorce can happen to parents with children of all ages. If your children are quite young, your focus when it comes to parental responsibility issues, beyond the basics of custody, timesharing and child support, may focus on immediate concerns like choosing your child’s pre-school and making decisions about early extracurricular activities. As you go through the process, however, it is often wise to consider other issues that may still be a few years down the road. For example, one common item is the issue of orthodontia. Who will decide whether or not your child gets braces? If your child receives orthodontic care, who will pay for it? These are things you may want to consider extensively as you go through the process of crafting a marital settlement agreement as part of your divorce, especially if your children are already of school age. As with any divorce-related decision, it often helps to have a skilled Miami family law attorney in your corner.

A case that originated in the panhandle shows some issues that parents should carefully take note of when it comes to orthodontic care, marital settlement agreements and divorce. In the case, which was recently decided by the First District Court of Appeal, the spouses had a marital settlement agreement and it clearly stated that the father had the obligation to pay “one-half of the children’s uncovered medical and dental expenses.” However, when the father did not pay for half of the child’s orthodontic expenses, the mother went back to court seeking to hold the father in contempt.

While the agreement was clear about dental expenses, the expense about which the mother was litigating arguably wasn’t a “dental” expense. Unfortunately, the spouses’ settlement agreement did not expressly define the term “dental expenses” to clarify whether it included or excluded orthodontic care. However, the agreement did contain one section, which was left blank, in which medical expenses, dental expenses and orthodontic expenses were split out into three separate categories.

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You may think that your family law case is simple and straightforward, so much so that you don’t believe you need an experienced Miami family law attorney to provide you with legal representation. The truth is, though, that any case can come with profoundly unexpected twists and turns and, if that happens to you, you need someone who knows exactly what to do. If, for example, your trial judge oversteps his/her legal bounds, your knowledgeable Miami family law attorney can guide you through your options to get you to the outcome you deserve.

A recent case originating from outside Jacksonville was an example of this. Former spouses M.W. and R.S. engaged in years of protracted litigation. In early 2017, the couple attended court-ordered mediation. The mediation took nine hours but, at the end of it, the spouses had come to a resolution on all of the disputed issues they had. The agreement that the spouses negotiated was put down on paper, which spanned 16 pages. It included terms related to parental responsibility, timesharing, child support, property division, insurance and tax exemptions. Both spouses initialed each and every page of the agreement

This sounds exactly like the way that the process should work, and the reaching of an appropriate endpoint, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, cases are not always as straightforward as they should be. During what was supposed to have been a five-minute status conference, the husband’s attorney allegedly presented the agreement to the judge for approval. (Neither the wife nor her attorney attended this hearing.) Instead of merely signing off, the judge made substantial changes. The parties had agreed that the wife would have sole parental responsibility of the pair’s two children; the judge awarded shared parental responsibility. The spouses agreed that the wife would be entitled to take tax exemptions for both children; the judge awarded one exemption to each spouse.

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When you are dealing with a dispute in relation to how your marital settlement agreement should be carried out, the courts will enforce the agreement in a manner similar to any other kind of contract dispute. What this means is that if the agreement is clear and unambiguous on its face the court will look only at the agreement document itself to determine what the outcome should be. If, however, the court decides that the document contains ambiguity, then that ambiguity allows the spouses to introduce external evidence to prove the true meaning of the provision in dispute. Achieving success, then, in your marital settlement agreement dispute begins with successfully persuading the court that your agreement is, or is not, ambiguous. When it comes these and other types of marital settlement agreement enforcement disputes, it is worthwhile to have the advice and advocacy of a skilled South Florida family law attorney.

An example of this type of dispute regarding a marital settlement agreement and its potential ambiguity was the case of M.F. and R.F. M.F. and R.F. worked out a marital settlement agreement as part of their divorce. For couples who are getting closer to the age of retirement, one of the most important pieces within the asset division puzzle may be the distribution of retirement accounts. In M.F. and R.F.’s case, the settlement agreement dealt with the husband’s pension, stating that the wife was entitled to 50% of the marital portion of the husband’s Florida Retirement System plan through his employer, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. The agreement further declared that, outside this FRS plan, each spouse would keep any IRAs or 401K plans in their names.

On the surface, this might sound straightforward enough. However, in this couple’s case, there was a complication. The husband had originally worked for a city police department that had eventually been absorbed by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. At the time of the absorption, the couple cashed out the husband’s pension that he had with the city. Later on, during the marriage, the couple purchased “enhancements” to the husband’s Florida Retirement System plan, which meant that they put extra money into the pension in order to realize a greater benefit when the husband retired. They used marital funds to purchase this enhancement.

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Divorce and family law litigation can be difficult on multiple levels. It can be emotionally stressful. It can also be draining in terms of time and money. That is especially true if if you are asked to make extensive and intrusive production of information, including sensitive financial documents. Sometimes, there may be ways to persuade the judge that you should not have to make such disclosures. It is important to avoid simply not complying, but instead to go through the proper legal procedures. A knowledgeable Florida family law attorney can help make the arguments you need.

One recent South Florida case that involved family law litigation and document disclosure was the dispute between G.E. and P.E. The spouses co-owned several rental properties. As part of the resolution of the divorce litigation, the spouses agreed to divide those rental properties. The agreement required the husband to use his “best efforts” to remove the wife from the properties he received in the settlement, and also obligated the wife to make similar efforts to remove the husband from the properties she received.

More than two years later, the ex-spouses were back in court. The ex-wife asked the court for an order to enforce the agreement. She alleged that the ex-husband still had not gotten her name removed from the mortgage on one of the properties that he received in the settlement. As part of this legal action, the ex-wife made a demand for the production of extension financial information.

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There is often much that anyone can learn from the rulings courts make. A recent decision handed down by a Florida appeals court in Miami provides two very important reminders for anyone going through the divorce process.. First and foremost, it is always a good idea to ensure that you have the representation of a knowledgeable Florida family law attorney for any divorce-related legal matter. That is especially true if there is a potential language barrier issue. Florida and the Florida courts remain English-dominant, and you want to ensure that you do not lose out on important rights or legal options because of a barrier due to English being something other than your first language.

The spouses involved in the case, Gerardo and Aura, began divorce proceedings in 2016. At the time, the couple had been married for 19 years. Each spouse decided to navigate the legal system without the representation of an attorney. The husband obtained the necessary paperwork, and the couple, with the help of a private notary, filled out the forms. The forms, along with a marital settlement agreement, stated that neither spouse would receive alimony. According to the notary, the wife did not speak English well, and she (the notary) translated much of the paperwork’s English into Spanish to aid understanding.

At the court clerk’s office, the wife allegedly objected to the “no alimony” provision, and the clerk made a note of it. Unfortunately for the wife, the paperwork that said “no alimony” got filed, and the document that supposedly showed her objection did not.