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Palm Beach Florida Divorce & Family Law Blog

Alimony in Jupiter, Florida

In a recently decided alimony case captioned Hua v. Tsung, the husband filed an action for divorce. The parties were married for 17½ years. The Husband and wife were in their early forties. The Husband was the primary breadwinner and wife was a homemaker and stay-at-home mother. The Husband owned several businesses during the marriage. The Husband owned part of a restaurant. The Husband also allegedly owned shares in a company named DSC Holdings Limited. At the time of the divorce, the husband lived with a new girlfriend and their two minor children in Brazil. The Wife lived in Broward County, Florida, and took care of the parties' minor children. During the marriage, the wife and the husband received generous gifts from the husband's parents. The husband's father bought them a home in California. When the parties moved to Florida, the Husband's parents bought them a home in Broward County. The Broward County home was valued between $650,000 to $700,000. The parties also bought a rental property. The parties' comfortable lifestyle was due in large part to the Husband's father. The wife earned no income.

Division of Property and Assets in Wellington, Florida

The division of property and assets in a Florida divorce begins with the division of the parties' assets into two categories, marital assets and liabilities and nonmarital assets and liabilities. Marital assets are those assets accumulated during the marriage by the parties from their work, earnings and services. In determining whether property is a marital asset, the question is not which party holds title to the asset. The trial court divides the marital assets and liabilities between the parties. In a recently decided case captioned Hooker v. Hooker, the Florida Supreme Court stated that although the trial judge possesses discretion to reach an equitable distribution of the parties' marital assets, there is a presumption that an even division is equitable, unless one of the parties shows otherwise.

Child Custody and Visitation in Wellington, Florida

In a child custody and visitation case, the Florida Court of Appeal recently ruled that a trial court cannot choose one parent's religious beliefs over the others' absent a showing of harm to the children. In Steinman v. Steinman the mother appealed a trial court's order finding her in contempt of court for unilaterally making decisions regarding her children's religion. The parties' marital settlement agreement provided for joint decision-making concerning all major decisions involving the children. The father contended that the mother's unilateral decision concerning the children's religious education constituted contempt of court.

The parties' marital settlement agreement provided for joint decision making for major decisions concerning the children. Religious upbringing was designated as a major decision. In 2014, the father filed a motion to hold the mother in contempt of court for placing the children in aftercare at Chabad. The Chabad aftercare program ended early on Friday as a result of the Sabbath. The father needed to work late on Fridays and wanted the mother to watch the children until 6:00 p.m.

In early 2015, the father filed another motion for contempt of court. The father argued that the mother was now following Orthodox Jewish practices and had enrolled their children in a religious aftercare program. The father complained about the mother making decisions on her own without his input. The father also complained that the aftercare schedule was negatively impacting upon his schedule at work. The father argued that he and the mother were Reform Jews during their marriage. The mother argued that she and the children attended Orthodox and Conservative synagogues during their marriage.

Child Custody and Visitation in Wellington, Florida

In making a child custody and visitation award that provides for ultimate decision-making, a trial court must delineate the specific areas over which a parent can exercise this authority. In a recent case captioned McClure v. Beck, the former wife filed an appeal of a lower court decision which modified the parties' final judgment. The Court of Appeal agreed with the former wife's argument that the lower court decision should be reversed because the trial court erroneously gave the former husband ultimate decision-making authority without describing the specific areas over which he could exercise this authority. The parties' original final judgment of dissolution of marriage gave the parents equal time­sharing with their children. It required the parties to live in Indian River County. The former wife petitioned the Court to relocate to California. The lower court denied the former wife's petition. Notwithstanding the Court's ruling, the former wife remained in California. The former husband then filed a petition to modify the parties' time-sharing schedule and asked the Court to award him ultimate decision-making authority if the parties were unable to agree. The magistrate gave the former husband ultimate decision-making authority when the parties disagreed on major decisions concerning the welfare of the children. The trial court affirmed the magistrate's decision. The Court of Appeal reversed the magistrate's and the trial court's rulings.

Adultery in Alimony Cases in Florida

In making an alimony award, adultery and infidelity can only be considered by the trial judge when the adulterous conduct involves the dissipation of marital assets. In a case captioned Keyser v. Keyser, the parties were married for twenty-years. This is considered a long term marriage. When there is a long term marriage, there is an initial presumption that an award of permanent alimony is appropriate. It was also alleged in Keyser v. Keyser that one of the spouses engaged in marital infidelity. 

Alimony Attorney in Wellington, Florida

In calculating alimony, income will be imputed to the owner of non-income producing assets. In a case captioned Sherlock v. Sherlock, the husband appealed the final judgment dissolving the parties' marriage. The parties were married for seventeen years. A seventeen year marriage is rebuttably presumed to be a long-term marriage. The husband was awarded non-income producing assets. These assets were comprised of financial accounts and real estate.

Modification of Child Custody and Visitation in Wellington, FL

Modification of Child Custody and Visitation will only be granted where there is a substantial, unanticipated, material, change in circumstances and where a modification is in the best interests of the children. In D.M.J v. A.J.T a final judgment was entered by the trial court in 2011. A parenting plan was incorporated into the final judgment. The parenting plan provided that when the parties' child was old enough to attend kindergarten the parents would decide where the child should go to school. If the parties were unable to decide, the matter was supposed to be mediates. Four years later, the mother alleged in her supplemental petition for modification of timesharing that the father had moved 25 miles from where he lived when the final judgment was entered. The mother alleged that this created a substantial change in circumstances that warranted a modification of timesharing. The Mother requested additional timesharing, increased child support, a designation as the ultimate decision maker for issues involving the child's education. The trial court granted the Mother's supplemental petition. The father appealed the trial court's order.

Child Custody and Visitation in Palm Beach Gardens

Restrictions on child custody and visitation by a judge in a court order must be accompanied by a description of the steps that a parent can take to reestablish unsupervised custody and visitation. In a recent case captioned Bahls v. Bahls a parent asked for a rehearing on a prior decision that was rendered by the Court. The appellate court granted the motion for a rehearing and reissued a revised opinion. The appellate court reversed the trial court's judgment because it failed to provide the specific steps required for the parent to end supervised visitation with her child. The trial court heard testimony from many witnesses on the appropriate timesharing arrangements for the parent and the child. The trial court ordered supervised visitation. The court also awarded ultimate parental responsibility to one of the parents. The Court permitted one parent to have most of the timesharing with the child and awarded supervised visitation to the other parent without providing any suggestion as to how unsupervised visitation could take place.

Florida Alimony Reform Statute 2016

Modification of Alimony based on retirement was addressed in the Alimony Reform Statute that was recently passed on March 8, 2016. The statute was vetoed by Governor Scott on April 15, 2016.

Under the Alimony Reform Statute, an alimony payor may obtain a termination or a modification of alimony based upon his or her retirement when: (a) the payor has reached the age for eligibility to receive full retirement benefits under the Social Security Act and has retired; or (b) the payor has reached the customary retirement age for his or her profession and has retired from that profession. A payor may file an action for modification or termination of alimony within one year of his or her anticipated retirement date and the court will then decide the customary retirement date for the obligor's occupation. A determination of the customary retirement age is not an determination of the merits of the petition for termination or modification of alimony.

If an alimony payor retires voluntarily before reaching any of the ages described above, the court will decide whether the payor's retirement is reasonable based upon the payor's age, health, and motivation for retirement and the financial impact the payor's retirement on the payee.

A finding of reasonableness by the court shall constitute a substantial change in circumstance.

In the event that the Court finds that the payor's retirement was reasonable, there is a rebuttable presumption that an alimony payor's existing obligation should be terminated or modified. The court will either terminate or modify the alimony obligation, or make a decision about whether the rebuttable presumption has been overcome, based upon the following factors: (i) the parties' ages; (ii) the parties' health; (iii) the parties' liabilities and assets; (iv) the parties' earned or imputed income; (v) the parties' ability to maintain full-time or part-time employment; and (vi) any other factor deemed relevant by the court.

Florida Alimony Reform 2016

Modification of Alimony as a result of a party's cohabitation was recently addressed by the Florida Legislature when it passed the Florida Alimony Reform Bill on March 8, 2016. The bill was vetoed by Governor Scott on April 15, 2016. 

Under the Florida Alimony Reform Bill, when a party cohabits with another person, the court may terminate or reduce an award of alimony if the court finds that subsequent to the date that the divorce was granted, a supportive relationship exists or has existed during the previous year prior to the filing of the modification petition. A court may terminate or reduce an alimony award as a result of a party's cohabitational relationship. The burden of proof is on the payor.

In determining whether an alimony award should be terminated or reduced because a supportive relationship exists, a court should consider the following circumstances:

(i) whether the payor and the other person have held themselves out as a married couple;

(ii) the period of time that the payor and the other person have lived with each other in a permanent place of residence;

(iii) whether the payee and the other person have pooled their income or assets or otherwise created financial interdependence;

(iv) whether the payee or the other person have wholly or partially supported each other;

(v) whether the payee or the other person performed valuable services for each other;

(vi) whether the payee or the other person performed valuable services for each other's company or employer;

(vii) whether the payee and the other person have created or enhanced anything of value;

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