City Landscape
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In any legal action, particularly something as personal as a family law case, you (as a party) hope and expect to receive a fair hearing from the court. So, what can you do if after the conclusion of your case you receive a final judgment that seems to indicate that your judge was less than adequately impartial or independent in his/her decision-making? Depending on the specific flaws in your judgment, you may have options. At many steps in the process, you may have avenues for seeking relief. These issues point out how it can help to have a skilled South Florida family law attorney on your side who understands in great detail all of the possibilities that may exist to allow you to get justice.

The case of a husband named G.T. was an example of such a scenario. To better understand what happened in G.T.’s divorce, it is helpful to walk through the steps of a contested divorce. The court will hold a trial. Each spouse will receive the opportunity to present proof and witnesses, and to cross-examine the other spouse’s witnesses. Once the trial is over, a final judgment of dissolution of marriage must be entered by the court. It is not uncommon for one of the spouse’s attorneys to draft a proposed final judgment for the judge to review and sign.

Obviously, each spouse’s attorney is a zealous advocate for her client and will draft a proposed final judgment that includes findings of fact and conclusions of law that favor her client. The judge, typically, will use portions of what the attorney has written, discard others, and insert additional language that the judge created independently.

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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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In many divorce cases, two of the key items that must be resolved are child support and alimony. In Florida, some types of alimony, like permanent alimony and durational alimony, are awarded with the expectation that the supporting spouse will be making payments to the recipient spouse for a considerable period of time. So what happens if the supporting spouse dies shortly after the award is ordered by the court? If that happens, it could mean that the recipient spouse receives very little alimony. To avoid that outcome, Florida law empowers judges to order supporting spouses to obtain life insurance to secure the alimony award. Judges can issue these orders only under special circumstances, however. To find out if your case’s circumstances are “special” and learn more about your options regarding alimony, you should contact a knowledgeable South Florida alimony attorney.Florida courts have clearly outlined what the “special circumstances” are that can serve as triggers for an order demanding life insurance as security for an alimony award. They include situations in which a spouse would potentially be “left in dire financial straits” if her supporting spouse died prematurely “due to age, ill health, and/or lack of employment skills.” These circumstances also include the supporting spouse’s failing health, minor children living at home, a recipient spouse who has limited earning ability, a supporting spouse who is behind on alimony payments, or cases in which the supporting spouse agreed to purchase a life insurance policy to secure the alimony award.

In one recent case, the trial court ordered the husband to purchase a $1 million life insurance policy to secure his alimony obligation. The husband appealed that decision, arguing that none of the law’s list of special circumstances applied to his situation. The husband had agreed to obtain life insurance to secure his child support obligation, but he had never made any similar agreement with regard to his alimony.

The judge’s order regarding life insurance did not survive an appeal because there wasn’t enough evidence of the required special circumstances. There was no finding by the trial judge that the wife would be left in “dire financial straits.” Additionally, the wife was fairly young, had a college degree, and also had a good job. The minor child at home with the wife would turn 18 in less than 2 years, and the husband was not behind in his alimony payments. These facts indicated that none of the special circumstances existed.

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When you find yourself facing a divorce, there may be several financial concerns on your mind. One of those concerns may be the distribution of marital assets that the court will order as part of the resolution of the divorce case. One thing that you should keep in mind as the case proceeds is that the distribution of marital assets may not necessarily be 50-50. The law requires an equitable distribution, but not an equal distribution, and there are many reasons why an unequal distribution might be equitable. To make sure you get what the law says you deserve, make sure you have retained knowledgeable South Florida divorce counsel to represent you.The divorce case of J.K. and E.P. was an example of an unequal equitable distribution. The spouses were two people who came into their marriage with two very different financial profiles. J.K. was a CPA who was deeply in debt. E.P. was a self-employed realtor, and she had amassed substantial wealth.

During the marriage, the couple bought a house for $412,000. The home’s down payment, in addition to the monthly mortgage payments, was made using the wife’s premarital assets. Also during the marriage, the couple remodeled the home, spending more than a half-million dollars on that project. Despite outlays of more than $910,000, the house was only worth $575,000, even after renovation. Nevertheless, when the couple divorced, the husband asserted that he was entitled to a 50% cut from the $163,000 appreciation in the value of the home.

In many situations, a spouse would be entitled to 50% of a marital asset. However, the law in Florida demands an equitable distribution of marital property, rather than an equal distribution of marital property. What that means, in plain English, is that the goal of the courts in distributing assets after a divorce is to arrive at a fair outcome, whether that outcome is equal or unequal.

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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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When you and your former spouse or partner share a child, there can be some very special logistical hurdles you have to navigate. That is especially true if you have to move away from your current home and seek to bring your child with you to your new home. Many times, these issues come up because a parent has a job-related or family-related need that makes them choose to relocate. However, what happens if your relocation is not voluntary, such as parents who are facing deportation? Regardless of why relocation happens, be sure you follow the rules necessary to relocate with your child. An experienced Florida family law attorney can provide you with the representation you need when it comes to the legal processes of child relocation.

A Florida couple from Indian River County recently found themselves facing this type of case. The wife was a citizen of the Philippines and received a Green Card when she and the husband married. The marriage lasted only a little more than two years before the husband filed for divorce.

The trial court, in addressing issues of custody and timesharing, recognized that the mother’s future circumstances were uncertain. Her citizenship application was still pending. If the government denied the application, the mother would be deported. The trial judge decided that, if the federal government deported the mother, then she would be entitled to take the daughter with her to the Philippines.

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Life is full of many twists and turns, many of which can have financial consequences. When you experience a turn in your life that reduces your income, and you are under an existing court order to pay your ex-spouse alimony, that downturn in your income may result in an alimony payment that is too large. In some circumstances, you may be entitled to obtain a court order that lowers your alimony payments (or even ends them altogether). There is, however, a specific way that you must go about seeking this modification, so it is definitely worthwhile to have knowledgeable South Florida counsel on your side.

R.B. was a man in such a position of change. In 2015, he was close to retirement. 10 years earlier, he and his wife, B.B., had divorced. In the couple’s 2005 marital settlement agreement, the husband agreed to pay the wife $5,500 per month in permanent alimony. The agreement said nothing about either’s spouse’s future retirement.

R.B. sought a reduction of his alimony. The trial court ruled in favor of B.B. The court of appeal, however, concluded that the trial court had made an “error of law.” The law allows courts to consider “a reasonable retirement as part of the total circumstances in determining if sufficient changed circumstances exist to warrant a modification of alimony.” A failure by a couple’s original divorce judgment or marital settlement agreement to address the parties’ future retirements does not change a trial judge’s ability to consider retirement in a request for reduction of alimony.

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When your divorce involves two accomplished and successful professionals, and no children, it is very likely that the main issue to be resolved in the divorce case will be equitable distribution. It is important to understand that equitable distribution in Florida does not automatically mean equal distribution. However, in order to award one spouse a larger portion of the marital assets (and/or a smaller portion of the marital debts), there has to be the presence of certain special circumstances. Overcoming your spouse’s request for an unequal distribution can often mean proving that special circumstances don’t exist, or at least that the special circumstances recognized by the law aren’t present. When it comes to avoiding such an unsuccessful outcome, it pays to have representation from a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney.

The question of when an unequal distribution is (or isn’t) allowed was at the center of one divorce case from the Tampa Bay area. D.C. and C.C. were a couple whose marriage was a short-term one. They married in the summer of 2008 and separated late in 2012. The husband was a county government employee in Tampa who earned a stable income. The wife had been a teacher but, in January 2008, began attending law school full time, which she finished in December 2010. During her time in law school, the wife took out more than $91,000 in student loans.

As the couple had no children, the main issue in their divorce was the distribution of marital assets and liabilities. This couple’s trial judge decided that special circumstances did exist to warrant an unequal distribution. The husband had supported the wife “emotionally and financially in her career pursuit” and had been the pair’s primary income source during the marriage. Based on that, the court’s order established a significantly unequal distribution. If the distribution had been equal, the husband would have owed the wife an equalizing payment of $81,000. The court’s order obliged the wife to pay the husband $11,000, for a total difference of more than $92,000 (from what equal distribution would have meant).

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Many courts, when facing a divorce or paternity case, award the parents shared parental responsibility. In fact, shared parental responsibility is the default option that will be implemented unless there is proof that such a custody arrangement would be against the best interest of the child. However, what happens if you and your child’s other parent are at complete opposites when it comes to a major decision, such as the child’s education? Hopefully, you can find a way to resolve the issue between yourselves but, other times, litigation may be necessary. When that happens, you’ll want to reach out to an experienced Florida family law attorney.

A recent Miami-Dade case presented such an impasse. The parents divorced in 2015. The children were 9 and 8 at that time. During the 2017-18 school year, the children attended public school in Pinecrest. For the 2018-19 academic year, the mother wanted the kids to continue in public school, while the father wanted to enroll them in a nearby Christian academy. The father asserted that the Christian school offered a stronger academic program for the children, and the father also offered to pay the entire cost of the kids’ private school tuition. Nevertheless, the mother still opposed the change.

With the parents unable to resolve their disagreement, the matter went to court. The trial judge sided with the father, and ordered that he pursue applying for admission for the children and enroll them if the school accepted them.

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In an episode of a popular TV courtroom drama, a judge once declared that “it’s not about being right… it’s about doing right.” While that case and that judge were fictional, that statement acknowledged an important aspect of the law: having a successful case is about more than facts. It requires understanding the procedural requirements of the law and following them properly. For one Miami-Dade County wife, procedural shortcomings were what derailed her recent case. To make sure you avoid getting trapped in a procedural pitfall, be sure you have skilled Florida family law counsel working for you.

The wife and her husband reached an oral agreement to resolve the matters involved in their divorce. The agreement said that each spouse was entitled to keep his/her own separate property assets. One item that was covered by this settlement, and by that non-marital-asset provision, was the marital home, which the husband had bought and which he 100% owned. The trial court finalized the divorce, including the settlement agreement, on April 5, 2016. The wife did not contest that order.

The problem was that the wife and the couple’s two minor children lived in the home. The husband, after getting the divorce order, went back to court and filed an “unlawful detainer” action. That is a legal action you can file and pursue in order to evict someone from a property.