Articles Tagged with divorce

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When a couple divorces in Florida while their children are minors, the goal of the family court system is to help them continue to have healthy relationships with their children, even after the parents are no longer married to each other. Unfortunately, child custody is often one of the most contentious issues in a divorce, and one of the most difficult to resolve without resorting to litigation. A judge ruling in favor of one party or the other is a last resort in family law cases, though, especially when it comes to deciding which parent spends how much time with the children.  Florida courts strongly prefer that parents come to an agreement about their parenting plan before they go before the judge; this way, the judge is simply approving an agreement that is satisfactory to both parties. Parenting coordination is a type of alternative dispute resolution, similar to mediation, that can help parents agree on the details of their parenting plan.

Parenting Coordinator Requirements

The parenting coordinator is not a judge, and he or she is not simply any unbiased third party.  The educational requirements for parenting coordinators in Florida are quite strict. To be a parenting coordinator, you must have a medical degree and be certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, or else you must hold a master’s degree either in family mediation or in a mental health field. You must have three years of professional experience working as a psychiatrist or mental health professional. You must complete a family mediation training program, in addition to a parenting coordinator training program; the latter program includes 24 hours of classroom instruction. Having previously been found guilty of child abuse or domestic violence disqualifies you as a parenting coordinator. Additionally, parenting coordinators must keep what is said at parenting coordination meetings confidential, and they must avoid conflicts of interest with any parties involved. Continue reading

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The principle of separation of church and state affects many aspects of United States law, including family law. For example, a marriage ceremony in a church, temple, or mosque is not enough to render a couple legally married under United States law; they must also obtain a marriage license and marriage certificate from the court in the state in which they reside.  (Some states will issue marriage licenses to out-of-state couples, but others have a residency requirement.)  Likewise, when it comes to divorce, civil proceedings and religious proceedings are independent of each other. In Judaism, a marriage is officially considered dissolved when the husband issues the wife a document called a Get, which proclaims that the parties are free to remarry.

How Does a Get Work in Theory and in Practice?

A Get is a short document, consisting of only 12 lines, always written in the presence of a rabbi and signed by witnesses.  It declares that the marriage has been dissolved, and that the former spouses may enter into new marriages. Unlike a civil divorce decree, it does not contain any details about division of property or child custody.

According to Jewish law, a woman cannot enter a new valid marriage until her previous marriage has been dissolved by the issuance of a Get. If she has children with her new husband, they are not automatically acknowledged as members of the Jewish community and would need to go through a conversion process in order to marry within the faith. Continue reading

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It may not snow in Florida, but the feeling of the holiday season is already in the air. Every year at around this time, some radio stations begin playing Christmas carols around the clock, while on other stations, radio DJs snark about how Thanksgiving and the winter holidays are peak season for family conflict. It is true that holiday-related stress is a real phenomenon, as anyone who works in the mental health field can attest. If you have shared custody of children with your ex-spouse or former partner, though, there are things you can do to reduce the stress of co-parenting during the holidays. Specifically, Florida’s parenting plans, in their current version, contain clauses specifically designed to avoid conflict about holiday plans before they start.

How do Florida Parenting Plans Address Holiday Timesharing?

People whose parents divorced in the 1980s and 1990s probably remember that life settled into a rhythm, usually including living with Mom during the week and with Dad on the weekends, but that sparks always flew at Thanksgiving and Christmas, when extended family members visited, or when one parent wanted to take the children to visit out-of-town relatives during a holiday.  This is one of the major issues that Florida’s new parenting plans address. The parenting plan template has questions to address every school vacation, including winter break, Thanksgiving, and spring break. Parents can choose, as soon as they divorce, where the children will spend each holiday each year. For example, they can specify that, in odd-numbered years, the children will spend Thanksgiving break with Mom until Friday afternoon and then spend the rest of it with Dad, but in even-numbered years, they will be with Dad until Friday afternoon and then go to Mom’s house. Parenting plans even allow parents to allot certain times for children to stay with grandparents, and they can choose to grant certain holiday days to the grandparents.

In some ways, Thanksgiving is the simplest holiday to plan because it is always on a Thursday.  What about Christmas, which is always on the same date, but on different days of the week?  What about Hanukkah, which sometimes coincides with winter break and sometimes does not?  What about Islamic holidays, which, because the Islamic lunar calendar is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, vary not only by day of the week, but by month?  (For example, this year, both Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha were during summer vacation. In 2000, Eid al-Fitr was between Christmas and New Year’s.) Florida’s parenting plans were made to be customized.  You can specify that each parent gets the children for four nights of Hanukkah, and that if it falls during a school week, each parent gets one non-school night of the holiday. Continue reading

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News stories about the complicated divorce proceedings of high-powered couples are nothing out of the ordinary in Florida. In many cases, the main complicating factor is the couple’s wealth.  It is not simple to divide a couple’s assets when they own many millions of dollars of property together. In the divorce of Alan Grayson (D-FL), a former member of the United States House of Representatives, from his ex-wife Lolita, division of property ended up being the least of the complicating factors in the case. In 2015, their marriage ended by annulment, not by divorce.

The Marriage(s) of Alan and Lolita Grayson

Alan Grayson and Lolita Carson married in 1986; it was a second marriage for both. The couple went on to have five children together. In 1990, Lolita Grayson applied for United States citizenship, and Alan Grayson saw her citizenship application before she submitted it. On the application, she listed her marital status as “separated.” More than 20 years later, during the couple’s divorce proceedings, it was revealed that Lolita was still legally married to her first husband at the time that she married Alan Grayson. In 2015, a judge annulled their marriage, declaring it void because of bigamy. In other words, the court declared that the couple had never been legally married because Lolita was legally married to someone else when she and Alan Grayson married each other.

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A lot of people think of divorce as a legal matter but marriage annulment as a religious matter.  For example, some Christian denominations will annul a marriage if the couple never consummated their marriage sexually, but except where abuse is concerned, family courts in the United States rarely concern themselves with people’s sexual behavior. Perhaps the most famous historical incident involving marriage annulment was the one involving King Henry VIII of England. The refusal on the part of the Catholic Church to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon was a major precipitating event in the Protestant Reformation in England.

What is Annulment of Marriage?

The secular and religious definitions of marriage annulment are similar in their essence.  According to Florida law, an annulment is when a court declares a couple unmarried on the grounds that their marriage is not valid. It is different from a dissolution of marriage (divorce).  In a divorce, the marriage was real, but a judge legally ends the marriage at the request of one or both parties. The law considers the marriage to have begun on the day of the couple’s wedding and to have ended on the day the court issued the divorce decree. Courts make decisions about spousal support based on these dates. For example, courts rarely award permanent alimony in cases in which the couple was married for less than 17 years.

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Making decisions about major medical treatments such as surgery for a child can be stressful for any family, even one where the parents consider themselves happily married and generally able to make decisions together without major conflict. When parents divorce, all of the conflicts about parenting that they had when they were married become amplified. In the worst cases, the courts have to get involved to resolve their disputes. The current system of parenting plans in Florida is designed to prevent these major conflicts. The parenting plan form seeks to anticipate every possible scenario in which conflict might arise and decide beforehand which parent will have the final say in each type of parenting decision. The Angeli v. Kluka case shows why this system is important because, when it comes to consenting to non-emergency surgery for a child, one parent’s consent is all you need.

Details of the Angeli v. Kluka Case

When Alexander Girgis was 3 years old, he underwent adenoid removal surgery. (Adenoid removal surgery is a non-emergency surgery; it is quite common for children who suffer from recurrent ear infections or sinus infections when other treatments fail to resolve the problem.)  Dr. Evelyn Kluka is the surgeon who performed the surgery, and Alexander recovered without any complications. At the time of the surgery, Alexander’s parents were in the process of getting a divorce. Alexander’s mother was the legal guardian who consented to the surgery, since medical treatments on minor children require a parent’s consent. Continue reading

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It is a great relief to many that the stigma surrounding seeking treatment for mental illnesses has lessened as much as it has in recent years. In many circumstances, mental health treatment has become routine even for patients who do not exhibit particularly alarming symptoms. In fact, recent statistics show that nearly 20% of American adults have been diagnosed with a mental illness at some time in their lives. If that is surprising, it is because the same privacy laws that protect nearly all health information also apply to mental health.

Unfortunately, though, things can get ugly in a divorce, especially when parents disagree about child custody arrangements. One parent sometimes argues that the other parent is unfit to spend a majority of the time with the children because of a pre-existing diagnosis of a mental health condition. If your former spouse does bring up your mental health history during divorce proceedings, will it affect the outcome of the case? Usually, it does not.

When Your Mental Health History Does Not Affect Parenting Plan Decisions

Under Florida’s current system of parenting plans, no two custody agreements are alike. The parenting-plan form is a multi-page questionnaire as long and complex as the longest tax forms.  Each decision regarding the children is a separate question; it is not simply a matter of one parent getting all or most of the custody of the children. The parents’ private health information usually does not factor into which decisions the judge approves in the parenting plan. The main goal is to cause as little disruption in the children’s lives as possible. Consider that, if a parent were undergoing treatment for a physical illness while the parents were married, most of the time it would not be a factor in the parenting agreement. The same usually applies to mental illnesses.  Furthermore, the parent’s psychiatrist cannot be asked to reveal the parent’s private health situation in court, except in the case of a true emergency, such as a suicide attempt or involuntary hospitalization. Continue reading

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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