Florida is one of only a few states in which judges can award permanent alimony to the spouse with the lower income or earning potential as part of a divorce decree. For a novelist with a certain mindset, Florida’s spousal support laws could be a plot point in a farce about materialistic social climbers and wealthy business tycoons. (Would Bunny Lebowski in The Big Lebowski have had to stage her own abduction if she could have just sued for permanent alimony?) In practice, permanent alimony is one of the least frequently awarded forms of spousal support. The only people who are even eligible to receive permanent spousal support are those who have been married for 17 years or more. Most permanent alimony recipients are elderly or have a chronic illness that would make gainful employment difficult or impossible.
Local media have recently highlighted the complexities of high asset divorce by reporting on the divorce of Nancy Hua and Dennis Tsung, an affluent South Florida couple. As of August 2017, the details of how to divide the couple’s assets have yet to be completely worked out. The rulings issued so far in the divorce and in Nancy Hua’s appeal reveal many interesting things about the way Florida courts view property division between divorced spouses.
Wealth Plus Time Does Not Always Equal Permanent Alimony
Nancy and Dennis were married for almost 18 years. In the original divorce case, Nancy requested permanent alimony of $20,000 per month. For most of the marriage she had been a stay-at-home parent with no income. The spousal support award she received was for rehabilitative alimony; Dennis was to pay her $2,500 per month for two years. He was also to pay $12,000 toward her educational expenses; the plan was for her to attend nursing school and then begin working. The court estimated that she would be able to earn an annual income of $50,000 working full time as a nurse. The reason for the court’s decision to award rehabilitative alimony is that Nancy Hua had plenty of potential for gainful employment. She was in her early forties and in good health, and her children were old enough not to require full time childcare.
What Counts as Marital Property?
Another point of contention in the divorce was some valuable shares that Dennis Tsung owned in a Chinese company. He argued, though, that the shares should not be considered marital property because it was his father who had bought the shares in Dennis’ name. Nancy, Dennis, and the elder Mr. Tsung agreed that Dennis was legally registered as the owner of the shares. The reason for registering the shares in Dennis Tsung’s name was so that, upon his father’s death, he would not have to pay a 40% tax to inherit them, as Chinese law would require. A footnote in the appeal that, in an attempt to avoid paying 40% of the value of the shares in taxes, Dennis left himself open to the possibility of being ordered to pay 50% of their value in spousal support to his ex-wife. The court ruled that because the shares legally belong to Dennis, they are, in fact, marital property.
High Asset Divorce with Alan Burton Law
Alan R. Burton practices family law in Palm Beach County, Florida. Contact Alan Burton to find out how he can help with property division in your high asset divorce.