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I made the decision to go with Mr. Burton and it proved to be the best decision I could make as he was able to get my children back. Mr. Burton is a true professional, who knows the law and cares about the concerns of his client. I have never met an attorney who is as good as he is, and is as compassionate as well. I'm forever grateful for all that he has done. Read More Testimonials Here
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Even people who do not have a romantic bone in their bodies find it heartwarming to see elderly couples who have been married for many decades. For example, after Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on Florida, readers all across the country took comfort in the news story about Harvey and Irma Schluter, a Washington state couple who have been married since 1942. Florida’s divorce lawyers know, though, that not all long marriages result in couples living happily ever after.  Divorce cases involving couples who have been married for more than two decades are often the most complex when it comes to property division, especially if the couple is wealthy. The divorce case of Burt and Lucille “Lovey” Handelsman, which has made news headlines recently, practically sets records for complex divorce, both because of the length of the marriage and because of the high value of the couple’s jointly owned assets.

Who are Burt and Lovey Handelsman?

Even if you have not heard the names Burt and Lovey Handelsman, their business dealings play a role in the lives of many Floridians. The Handelsmans own approximately $750 million in commercial real estate in Florida and New York state. Among their most famous holdings are the upscale shops on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. Burt and Lovey are both in their late 80s; they have gradually built their real estate empire over the course of their 67-year marriage, and their three children are also involved in the family business.

In 2016, Lovey filed for divorce, convinced that Burt was having an extramarital affair with Jane Rankin, a friend of the Handelsmans who has also been involved with the family real estate business.  Burt denies the affair; he believes that the couple’s children have intentionally alienated Lovey from him, thinking that they will gain more of the family wealth sooner if their parents divorce. The couple’s son and two daughters deny these claims. Continue reading

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Florida’s laws are quite clear about the fact that all assets acquired and liabilities incurred during the marriage should be considered marital property. Since Florida is an equitable distribution state, Florida divorce courts divide marital property according to the needs of each spouse. It is rare for a judge to classify an asset or liability taken on during the marriage as non-marital property. In the Mills v. Mills case, the former wife successfully convinced the appeals judge to re-classify a home equity loan as a non-marital liability, on the grounds that her then-husband had forged her signature on the loan documents.

Details of the Mills v. Mills Case

During the 37 years that he was married to his wife Brenda, Barry Mills entered into a number of investments, many of which turned out to be profitable. In 2007, Barry and several other investors attempted to form a startup bank. In order to cover his share of the startup capital, Barry took out a home equity loan in the amount of $100,000 dollars; as per the terms of the loan agreement, he pledged the couple’s house as collateral to secure the loan. Certain that Brenda would refuse to sign for the home equity loan, and knowing that he would not have sufficient funds to participate in the startup bank project without the loan, Barry signed Brenda’s name on the loan documents without her knowledge. When the startup bank applied for a state charter, the state refused to issue one, meaning that Barry lost his investment, which totaled more than $245,000. When the lenders required the Mills family to repay the loan, they repaid it using money from Barry’s retirement funds.

When the couple divorced, the trial court classified the loss resulting from the startup bank project as a non-marital liability. The court’s reasoning was that, except in cases of misconduct, all assets and liabilities taken on during the marriage count as marital property. Brenda appealed the decision, arguing that a forged signature qualifies as misconduct.  Barry did not deny forging Brenda’s signature on the loan documents. The appeals court sided with Brenda and re-classified the loss as a non-marital liability. Continue reading

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On the surface of it, the decision about whether to continue working after you have children or to leave the workforce for a certain number of years after your children are born is more controversial than it should be. It is not hard to find blogs and countless discussion forums full of unkind sentiments toward one or the other type of parent. Working mothers might imagine that the mommies on the playground in the middle of the day are judging them for being self-centered career women, while stay-at-home moms might imagine that their peers who continued working see them as boring and lacking drive. Fortunately, Florida law recognizes the contribution of income-earning spouses to a marriage and a family, and it also recognizes the contribution of spouses who do not have a paid job. In fact, Florida divorce courts freely acknowledge that having one spouse stay home with the children can be a source of support to the career of the other spouse and the financial health of a family.

Alimony and Stay-at-Home Parents

Permanent alimony in Florida is the stuff of legend, but it is neither a given nor terribly elusive.  It all depends on the specific circumstances of the family. Typically, the recipient of permanent alimony is someone who was married for at least 17 years and did not earn an income for most of the marriage. Besides chronic illnesses, being a stay-at-home parent is the most common reason for not working during a long marriage. These are some recent cases where stay-at-home parents have requested alimony; in some cases, the courts awarded it. Continue reading

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Of Florida’s six types of alimony, permanent alimony is probably the one that gets the most publicity and inspires the longest legal battles. Florida is one of only a few states where a court can require a divorced person to make monthly alimony payments to his or her former spouse indefinitely. Usually, courts only award permanent alimony when the couple was married for 17 years or more. That is a long enough time for the supported spouse to assume that the couple’s financial situation is permanent. After marriages of such length, it is also likely that the spouses are close to retirement age and may have health problems associated with age.

Courts also sometimes award permanent alimony after a long marriage when the supported spouse is young enough to have a career ahead of her. Kimberly Dickson successfully argued before an appeals court that, because of the 20 years she had spent as a stay-at-home parent, her earning potential was considerably less than if she and her former husband had not agreed that she should stay home for all those years. In other words, courts take into account a spouse’s contributions to a marriage that are not in the form of currency and other material assets. Kruse v. Levesque is another case where an appeal court awarded permanent alimony to a woman in her 40s; in this case, the marriage had lasted only 11 years, and the court ruled that permanent alimony was appropriate because of the wife’s disability. Continue reading

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For some people, complaining about money is a hobby, and some even elevate it to the status of a high art. While they might get a kick out of grousing about the prices of items on restaurant menus or in the supermarket, it is understood that they ultimately have a choice about which items they buy. What really ruffles people’s feathers are fees that they are legally required to pay.  Even generally cheerful people grumble about taxes and parking tickets. Child support is another financial obligation that people often feel is imposed on them against their will. It is not hard to find divorced parents who, given the opportunity, will go on at length about how much better their financial situation would be if they did not have to pay child support. Even people who would never complain out loud might secretly wish that there were a way to be legally exempt from paying child support. In fact, there are several ways, but most of them involve circumstances you would not wish for yourself.

The Child Support That Most People Have to Pay

Florida has standard child support guidelines. The main criteria determining how much you must pay are your net income and the number of children you must support. Judges usually follow the child support guidelines closely. In fact, when a judge orders a child support amount that differs from the amount determined by the guidelines by more than 5%, the judge must file a written statement explaining why he or she decided on this new amount. Continue reading

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When Floridians move out of state, for example, to attend an out-of-state college, they can find plenty of reasons to brag to their buddies from other states. I swam in an alligator-infested river and lived to tell about it! Yes, people flaunt their cosmetic surgery-enhanced bodies on Florida beaches every day, even Christmas! I have had a driver’s license since my 16th birthday, and I have never once parallel parked, not even on my driving test! The last boast is what makes your buddies do a double-take, since the other Florida quirks are quite famous. It is entirely possible to get a driver’s license in Florida without learning how to parallel park; almost everywhere has a parking lot or parking garage, anyway. What you do need to do in order to get a driver’s license in Florida before you can take the test to get your license is complete a one-day course about traffic safety and Florida traffic laws.

What has any of this to do with divorce in Florida? It turns out that many Florida divorce cases require parenting classes. In fact, mandatory parenting classes in Florida divorce cases are almost as routine as the one-day class for new drivers in Florida.

Mandatory Parenting Classes in Florida

It is common for Florida family courts to require Florida couples going through a divorce to complete the Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course before the judge will sign the final divorce decree. In fact, Florida courts require it of every divorcing couple that has minor children. Additionally, when a man who is not married to his child’s mother establishes paternity, the court requires both parents to complete the course. Continue reading

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Except where adoption is involved, many people think of genetic relationships as the most important thing that links parents and children. In Florida’s family law system, that is not always the case. It is entirely possible for a man to claim paternity and to be named as the child’s legal father without DNA testing. If a man agrees to be named as the father on a child’s birth certificate, most of the time, no one questions it. In fact, Florida courts usually only order DNA paternity tests when no legal father has been named, and the court needs to decide who is responsible for paying child support for a child whose mother has demonstrated financial need.  The rest of the time, biology is not the sole determining factor. The recent Flynn v. McCraney decision is just one example of when a Florida court ruled not to award legal paternity to the child’s biological father.

The Mother’s Husband is the Child’s Father by Default

If the mother is married at the time of the child’s birth, her husband becomes the legal father by default. Why is this the case in an age when DNA paternity testing is so accurate and so inexpensive? Part of the reason goes back to the days before DNA testing was available. Before the 1990s, alleging that the father of a married woman’s child was someone other than her husband required nothing short of character assassination, and it was almost impossible to prove.  Even now that matters of biological paternity are so easy to determine through DNA testing, Florida courts still prefer to keep families intact. If a child has been raised by two parents since birth, the courts favor arrangements where those two adults remain the primary caregivers until the child reaches adulthood. (This is the logic behind the trend toward timesharing in Florida’s parenting plans.) Continue reading

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When the phrase “imputed income” is mentioned, the first image that comes to many people’s minds is the media stereotype of the deadbeat dad. They picture a man who refuses to seek work or who only takes jobs that pay under the table. The stereotypical deadbeat dad is someone who cares more about avoiding paying child support than about the wellbeing of his children. His pride will not allow him to let the court tell him how to spend his money, no matter how much or how little of it he has. He lets his bitterness toward his ex-wife cloud his judgment, so the court decides how much he should be earning and forces him to pay, setting in motion a cycle of bitterness and unfulfilled obligations.

Regardless of the fact that there are far fewer true deadbeat dads in real life than there are in the popular imagination, child support obligations are not the only reason that Florida’s family courts make decisions based on someone’s imputed income. The Koscher v. Koscher case involves the divorce of a wealthy couple who did not have minor children at the time of the divorce. Instead, the judge relied on imputed income purely to determine alimony payments.

What is Imputed Income?

In short, imputed income is estimated potential income. When a supporting spouse (or a parent paying child support) is earning an income, the courts base the amount of support payments on the income amount. If the court determines that the person is voluntarily unemployed or intentionally earning less money than he or she could, the court bases the support payments on what the person should be earning based on his or her previous work experience and previous income amounts. Continue reading

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One of the criticisms most frequently leveled at family court systems in the United States is that they treat fathers as walking checkbooks, imposing heavy child support obligations on them and invading their privacy to ensure that they pay those obligations, meanwhile doing little to support their efforts to have a meaningful relationship with their children. In recent years, the family court system has changed some of its practices to give more importance to the rights of fathers to be involved in the lives of the children they support. Consider that parenting plans now give parents a wide variety of options as to how to divide time with the children and decision-making authority among parents.

The Parker v. Parker case represents a worst-case scenario for fathers. If all you knew about the case were news headlines, you would recognize it as the case where a man disproved his paternity, but the court ordered him to keep making child support payments for his ex-wife’s son.  In fact, the court made this decision based on the fact that Richard Parker waited a long time (more than a year after the divorce was filed) to challenge his paternity and that his main motivation seemed to be a desire to get out of paying child support.  The court ruled that it was in the child’s best interest not to take away the only father he had ever known.

How to Avoid Paternity Fraud

The best way to deal with paternity fraud is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Few things are more disruptive to a family than finding out that a child’s biological father is someone other than the legal father who shares a strong emotional bond with the child. With the widespread availability of DNA testing, it is easier than ever to prevent situations where parents question a child’s paternity only after the child is old enough to be affected by the situation emotionally. Continue reading

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Florida’s tradition of family law acknowledges that there is more than one way to be a father.  The child’s biological father is not necessarily the child’s legal father. In fact, when establishing paternity, the courts do not always order DNA paternity tests. Sometimes a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity is all you need. Things get more complicated when it comes to matters of child support, however. Is the biological father always the one who should pay child support for the child? The answer, according to Florida case law, is that it depends, and not always in the ways you would expect. The decision in the Parker v. Parker case will surprise many people, but the reasons behind the decision reveal a lot about what it means to be a father in Florida.

The Facts of the Parker v. Parker Case

Parker v. Parker made news as the case in which a Florida court ordered a man to continue to pay child support for his ex-wife’s son even after a DNA test proved that he was not the child’s biological father.  When Richard Parker and his wife Margaret initiated their divorce, their son was more than a year old. The court ordered Richard to pay $1,200 per month in child support.  Richard fell behind on the child support payments, and the court tried to enforce payment of them. Richard responded by expressing doubt that he was the child’s biological father, as Margaret had been unfaithful to him during the marriage.  Even after the family underwent DNA testing, and the results showed the Richard was not the biological father, the court required him to continue paying child support. Why would a court order a man to pay child support for a child of whom he was not the biological father and whom he did not adopt? Continue reading