A case involving the unequal distribution of marital assets was recently decided by the Florida Court of Appeal.  In a case captioned Chatten v. Chatten, the husband appealed a final judgment of dissolution of marriage that awarded the wife an unequal division of the parties’ marital assets.  The husband argued that the trial court improperly granted an unequal division of property and assets to the wife.  The Florida Court of Appeal agreed and reversed the trial court’s ruling.

In this case, the husband and wife owned two pieces of property.  The first piece of property was located in Battlefield, Missouri.  The second piece of property was a home in Vero Beach, Florida.  The wife contributed $30,000.00 to the down payment on the Florida home.  Additionally, the wife paid $11,000.00 to furnish the Vero Beach, Florida home.  Both of these payments came from funds that that the wife inherited.  Additionally, the wife used funds from her IRA to purchase the Missouri property.  Both properties had mortgages on them.  The mortgage on the Vero Beach home was significantly less than the mortgage on the Missouri property.

The trial court awarded the Vero Beach home to the wife, and awarded the Missouri property to the husband.  The trial court also ordered the wife to pay $40,000 to the husband.  This constituted an unequal division of the parties’ marital property in favor of the wife.  The husband received $95,373 in assets, and the wife received $216,606 in assets.  The trial court justified this award because the wife contributed to the purchase of the Vero Beach home.

In a case captioned De La Fe v. De La Fe, the Former Husband, Steven De La Fe, and the Former Wife, Davihana De La Fe, were married in 2009.  During the course of their marriage, they had two children.  An evidentiary hearing was held in this matter, and the Former Husband and Former Wife were divorced in July 2020.  The Former Husband brought an appeal contesting several parts of the final judgment granting the parties’ dissolution of marriage.

In this child custody and visitation case, the final judgment of dissolution of marriage stated that it was in the best interests of the parties’ children for parental responsibility to be shared by the Former Husband and the Former Wife.  It also ordered the Former Husband and the Former Wife to attempt to jointly make decisions concerning the welfare of the parties’ children.  The final judgment also granted the Former Wife ultimate decision-making authority.  The standard of review that the appellate court applied in reviewing this time-sharing order was abuse of discretion.

Under Florida law, there are two types of parental responsibility.  They are sole parental responsibility and shared parental responsibility.  In Florida, the preferred time-sharing arrangement is shared parental responsibility.  Shared parental responsibility means that parents are required to attempt to confer and reach agreement on major issues that affect the welfare of their children. Major decisions include, without limitation, the children’s education, extra-curricular activities, healthcare, social and religious training, and general welfare.  In the event that parents are unable to agree on a major issue that affects the welfare of their children, the issue can then be resolved by the trial court.

A recently decided alimony case captioned Rodolph v. Rodolph involved two appeals by the husband.  Since both appeals involved the same parties and the same facts, the Florida Court of Appeal consolidated the cases into one appeal.  In Rodolph v. Rodolph, the husband appealed the lower court’s order denying his Supplemental Petition for Termination or Modification of Alimony.  Additionally, the Husband appealed the award of $39,000.00 in attorney’s fees to his wife.

In this case, the husband and wife were married for 33 years.  At the time of the divorce, the Husband had been a corrections officer for the Broward County Sheriff’s Office for twenty-four years.  In the final judgment of dissolution, the wife was granted permanent periodic alimony and a portion of husband’s retirement funds.  Husband filed a Supplemental Petition to Either Modify or Terminate Alimony.  Husband’s Supplemental Petition for Modification of Alimony alleged that husband did not have the ability to continue to pay alimony because he was involuntarily unemployed due to his heart condition, his neck and back problems, and carpal tunnel syndrome in his wrist and arm.  Husband also alleged that his wife no longer had a need for alimony because she received the first share of husband’s retirement funds, she was receiving disability payments and her monthly expenses were reduced. While Husband’s Supplemental Petition for Modification was pending, Wife filed a Motion for Contempt of Court against Husband because Husband ceased making alimony payments.

At the hearing on husband’s Supplemental Petition for Modification of Alimony, husband testified that he was receiving social security payments, but was earning no income.  He also testified that he remarried and was living with his new wife and her children. Husband purchased a new home and incurred various expenses.  In order to meet his expenses, husband withdrew $3,500 per month from his retirement account.  Wife testified that her expenses for rent, association fees, water, garbage, insurance, cable, and donations to religious organizations exceeded her income.

An alimony case captioned Dills v. Perez was recently decided by the Florida Court of Appeal.  In this case, the former wife appealed the ruling of the lower court.  The former husband and the former wife were divorced. As part of their dissolution of marriage proceedings, the former husband and the former wife entered into a marital settlement agreement.  The parties’ marital settlement agreement required the former husband to pay durational alimony to the former wife for forty-eight (48) months.  Additionally, the parties’ marital settlement agreement contained a provision that stated that the former husband’s obligation to pay durational alimony to the former wife was non-modifiable.  Although the parties’ marital settlement agreement contained a provision that the former husband’s alimony obligation would not terminate upon the former husband’s death, it did not specifically discuss the effect that remarriage would have on the former husband’s durational alimony obligation.

The former wife remarried prior to the expiration of the forty-eight (48) month period.  The former husband filed a notice of termination of durational alimony.  The former wife filed a motion in which she sought to have the husband held in contempt of court and sought compliance with the terms of the marital settlement agreement.  This post judgment matter was heard by a general magistrate.  The general magistrate ruled that the former wife’s remarriage entitled the former husband to stop making alimony payments to the former wife.  The general magistrate reasoned that the former husband’s alimony obligation should terminate upon the former wife’s remarriage because the parties’ marital settlement agreement did not expressly provide for termination of the former husband’s alimony obligation upon remarriage.

The general magistrate’s ruling was appealed to the trial court.  The trial court approve the recommendation of the general magistrate and terminated the former husband’s alimony obligation.

On June 24, 2022, Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed the Florida Alimony Reform Bill that was presented to him by the Florida Legislature on June 17, 2022.  Governor DeSantis, a Harvard trained attorney and former Special Assistant United States Attorney, vetoed the legislation based upon the fact that it violated Article I, Section 10 of the Florida Constitution.  In his veto letter to Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd, Governor DeSantis stated: “If CS/CS/SB1796 were to become law and be given retroactive effect as the Legislature intends, it would unconstitutionally impair vested rights under certain preexisting marital settlement agreements. See art. I, § 10, Fla. Const.”

The Alimony Reform Bill would have had significant ramifications, including the following.

First, under the 2022 Alimony Reform Bill, permanent alimony would have been abolished for all divorce cases pending after July 1, 2022.  As a result of the Governor’s veto, there are now four types of alimony in Florida.  They are bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational, and permanent alimony.

Custody of the family dog was recently considered by the Florida Court of Appeal in a Florida divorce case captioned Harby v. Harby.  In this case, the Former Husband and the Former Wife were married in December 2001.  In November 2017, the Former Wife filed a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.  The Former Husband and Former Wife own two dogs.  Their names are Liberty and Nico. At the trial, the Former Wife testified that Liberty was an emotional support dog. The Former Wife also testified that she took care of Liberty and Nico from 2013 to 2017.  Between 2017 and the date of the trial, the Former Husband took care of both dogs.

The trial court awarded custody of the family dogs to the Former Husband.  The Former Wife appealed this decision.  She argued that Liberty was her emotional support dog.  The Former Husband testified that he and his Former Wife agreed that the dogs should not be separated from each other.

The Florida Court of Appeal pointed out that in some states, family pets are recognized as having a special status that may be considered by trial courts in awarding custody and visitation of the family pet.  For example, Alaska allows trial courts to determine a pet’s well-being in awarding custody and visitation in an Alaskan divorce proceeding.  The State of Florida does not consider the family pet to have a special status.  In the State of Florida, pets are considered to be personal property.  As such, Florida trial courts cannot award custody or visitation of pets.

In a recent child support case involving unmarried parents, the mother attempted to impute income to the father. The father lost his job as a commodity broker as a result of his misappropriation of funds.  The mother introduced a report from a vocational expert in an attempt to impute income to the father.

In a case captioned, Damask v. Ryabchenko, the Florida Court of Appeal began by pointing out that Florida’s child support guideline presumptively set forth the amount that trial courts should award as child support in initial proceedings and modification proceedings.  The child support guidelines can be also used to provide a basis to prove that there has been a substantial change of circumstances that warrants a modification of child support.

Income should be imputed to unemployed or underemployed parents when their unemployment or underemployment is voluntary. If a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the parent’s probable earnings are determined based upon his or her recent earnings, qualifications, and prevailing earnings in the community. The party seeking to impute income has the burden of proving that the other party’s unemployment or underemployment was voluntary, and must provide evidence to the court that income is available to the payor from employment for which he or she is qualified by education, experience, and geographic location.  In determining geographic location, consideration should be given to the parties’ custody and visitation schedule and the parties historical utilization of time-sharing with their children.

In an alimony case captioned Tanner v. Tanner, the Florida Court of Appeal recently ruled that in order to determine whether a payor’s voluntary retirement is reasonable, a trial court is required to consider the payor’s age, health, reason for retiring, type of work, and the age at which others who perform the same type of work normally retire.

In Tanner v. Tanner, the Husband appealed the trial court’s order denying his petition for modification of his divorce decree. The parties were divorced in January 2016. The final judgment of dissolution required the Husband to pay permanent periodic alimony to the Wife. In September 2018, the Husband filed a petition to modify the divorce decree in which he sought to eliminate or reduce the amount of his alimony payments.

In the Husband’s supplemental petition for modification of alimony, the Husband stated that his employer terminated his employment, and that his medical condition precluded him from finding similar employment.  The trial court denied the Husband’s petition for modification of alimony based upon the fact that it found the Husband’s retirement at age 64 to be unreasonable. In his appeal, the Husband argued that his retirement was reasonable based on his age and his failing health.

An alimony case involving the imputation of income was recently decided by the Florida Court of Appeal.  In a case captioned Douglas v. Douglas, the Florida Court of Appeal recently ruled that the party who seeks to impute income to the other spouse bears the burden of proving that the other spouse is employable and that jobs are currently available for which the recipient spouse is qualified. 

In Douglas v. Douglas, the husband appealed several of the rulings that the trial court made in the Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage.  The parties were married for eight years.  They were the parents of two children.  The wife was a stay-at-home mother, who took care of the parties’ children during the course of the marriage.  She did not work outside of the marital home during the marriage.  After the parties separated, the wife unsuccessfully applied for over thirty jobs during the parties’ separation. 

The husband was a professional basketball player. During his career, he played for the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors and the Miami Heat.  Recently, the husband played on a number of European teams.  The wife filed the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. 

A division of property and assets case was recently decided by the Florida Court of Appeal in a case captioned Hamilton v. Hamilton.  In this case, the husband appealed the Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage based upon the fact that the trial court awarded an unequal division of the parties’ assets to the wife.  The husband contended that the trial court improperly classified over fifty thousand ($50,000.00) dollars of husband’s credit card debt as nonmarital debt.

The Florida Court of Appeal ruled that marital assets and marital liabilities are all assets acquired and all liabilities incurred during the course of a marriage.  These assets and liabilities may be acquired during the course of the marriage by either spouse, jointly, or individually.  There is a presumption in Florida law that all assets acquired and all liabilities incurred after the date of marriage which are not specifically designated as nonmarital assets and nonmarital liabilities are presumed to be marital assets and marital liabilities.

In the case at bar, the husband incurred charges on several credit cards that were used to pay for business expenses and personal living expenses during the course of the parties’ marriage.   The trial court concluded that the husband’s business expenses were nonmarital debt because the Husband failed to provide the trial court with evidence that any portion of the debt was marital.  The Florida Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s ruling.  The Florida Court of Appeal ruled that the trial court’s designation of the husband’s business expenses as nonmarital liabilities failed to comply with Florida’s statutory presumption that all assets acquired and all liabilities incurred during the course of a marriage, which are not specifically established as nonmarital assets and nonmarital liabilities, are presumed to be marital.  Absent any evidence that the husband’s business expenses were specifically established as nonmarital liabilities, they are presumed to be marital liabilities.  Since there was no evidence in the record that showed that the husband’s business expenses were nonmarital, the Florida Court of Appeal ruled that they were marital liabilities.

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