Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Rise of Postnuptial Agreements

For years, contracts between a married couple were void because they were against public policy. Recently, certain states have validated postnuptial agreements so long as certain rules regarding financial disclosure and the like are followed. As a result of changes in financial positions during a marriage, more and more people are entering into postnuptial agreements as a way to protect assets and/or solemnize intentions for a marriage. In a recent poll of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyer (AAML) members, 49% of the divorce attorneys cited an increase in postnuptial agreements during the past five years. There hasn't been much research as to why, but it appears that the request to have this type of agreement drawn up is coming from both spouses. The main purpose of a postnuptial agreement is to stop conflict and build a stronger relationship. I haven't seen any research as to whether the divorce rate is lower for couples who enter into postnuptial agreements. However, since couples who discuss big questions before marriage and continue to keep the lines of communication open after saying "I Do" are more likely to stay married, it seems logical that couples who have postnuptial agreements have a higher marriage success rate. I'm of the belief that anything that can help reduce the divorce rate in America is a good thing, so long as it isn't against public policy. However, I am sceptical as to whether postnuptial agreements actually decrease the number of divorces, or are just a good way to protect assets much like a prenuptial agreement.

If you would like to read about the AAML poll, see:

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I'm Not The Father, So Why Am I Paying Child Support?

Over the past couple of years, I have been shocked to see the number of men who are paying child support for children who are not biologically theirs. What usually happens is that a man is duped into believing that he is the biological father of a child from birth, and only learns that he is not the father many years later. If a man stipulates that he is the father of a child, without DNA testing, he receives all his parental rights and responsibilities to that child, including the responsibility of paying for child support if the child in question resides with the mother. If the DNA testing is waived, in Florida, a father only has a short time within which he can dispute paternity at a later date. Therefore, if the father learns years later that he is not the father, he will be on the hook for child support until the child reaches the age of eighteen. Florida cares first and foremost about the best interests of the child, and when a man has been in a child's life as their father, the State believes that it is in the child's best interest to continue to have this person provide for them. I know that there are quite a number of states that have laws on this subject similar to the laws here in Florida. There has been a rising number of people who are willing to fight the system and are attempting to change the laws to be more fair to "duped dads". However, in cases where the parties are not married, I believe the simplest and most cost efficient way to solve the case of paternal mistaken identity is to make DNA testing mandatory for each and every case. Therefore, all parties will know who is or is not biologically linked to a child from the start of a case.

If you would like to read a recent article in Time Magazine concerning "duped dads", please see the following:,9171,1580398,00.html

Monday, January 29, 2007

DNA Testing and Paternity

From Hollywood to here in Florida, there are newspaper articles circulating concerning popular and/or famous people involved with various paternity allegations. One of the more popular news items has involved Anna Nicole Smith who for months has vehemently denied that her former boyfriend, Larry Birkhead, is the father of her baby daughter. In other noteworthy news, Charlie Christ, the new governor of Florida, has recently denied that he is the father of a young woman who was given up for adoption 17 years ago. However, despite the denials by both Anna Nicole Smith and Governor Christ, neither one has submitted to DNA testing. Anna Nicole Smith has gone so far as to file pleadings in order to prolong a Court Ordered DNA test. I question all the drama and whether these denials and the refusal to submit to DNA testing are part of a larger fear of the truth, and the consequences of the truth. What's the harm in taking a DNA test if you are sure of the results?

With DNA testing as accurate as it is, I find it alarming when people are not voluntarily submitting to such testing in paternity suits where the best interests of a child are at issue. However, in cases such as adoption, I don't believe that DNA testing is appropriate or necessary. When a person gives up their parental rights in favor of an adoption, unless a person is interested in having a relationship with a child which may or may not be their biological child, DNA testing should not be pushed.

If you would like to read more about Governor Christ and the adoption case that has been in the new recently, see:

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Divorce Support Groups

I recently wrote an article about divorce late in life and how more and more couples are deciding to divorce after 30 or 40 years of marriage. Divorce is hard no matter how long you've been married, however people who have spent their entire adulthood married are known to have even tougher times adjusting to their new life as a single. Support groups have become more and more popular to help a divorcee with all of the feelings that they have as a result of their divorce. People who have been divorced are more likely to get married a 2nd time, and the divorce rate for second marriages is even higher than the divorce rate for 1st marriages. Therefore, another purpose of divorce support groups is to assist a divorcee in transitioning into their new life and to help them learn from past mistakes in order to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. I encourage divorce support groups and believe that they can be a healthy outlet for all divorcees, especially those people who are in their 50s or 60s and are single for the first time in their adult lives.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Prenuptial Agreements Increases Chance of Marriage Survival?

I recently wrote about the ten questions that a couple should ask before getting married. Heather Mahar, of Harvard Law School, is currently studying whether prenuptial agreements actually increase the likelihood of successful marriages. Mahar argues that couples who sit down and solemnize what they will do with marital assets in the event of a divorce and who also discuss other important questions before they walk down the aisle are more likely to stay married. Mahar goes even further to suggest that prenuptial agreements should be mandatory. She states that the process of creating a prenup acts as form of premarital counseling, making couples talk about what kind of marriage they want, and what legal ramifications there will be if one spouse veers off course. While I don't think that you could ever make prenuptial agreements mandatory as a matter of public policy, I do see the value in prenuptial agreements. However, I think that people should discuss marital expectations prior to marriage, and that those expectations don't necessarily belong in a formal agreement.

If you would like to read more about the Harvard Study, please see:

Friday, January 26, 2007

What To Do In Cases of Domestic Violence

Unfortunately, more and more cases of domestic violence are cropping up here in Florida. It is important to know what to do if your spouse should become violent. First and foremost, if a violent altercation occurs, or you truly feel that your safety is in danger, call the police. After the police have removed an individual from your home, you should attempt to procure an injunction, either temporary or permanent. The rules regarding Injunctions can be found at Florida Statute Section 741.30.

Temporary Injunction

What Criteria Is Needed In Order to Obtain a Temporary Injunction?

An individual may receive a temporary injunction from a spouse, ex-spouse, or other person living in the same dwelling unit, including the parent of a child in common with the individual pursuant to Florida Statute Section 741.30. In order to obtain this temporary injunction there must have been an assault, battery, sexual assault, stalking, kidnapping or other criminal offense resulting in physical injury or reasonable cause to believe he/she is in imminent danger of becoming the victim of an act of domestic violence and, when it appears to the court that an immediate and present danger of domestic violence exists.

What Happens If a Temporary Injunction Is Granted?

There are many things that can happen once the temporary restraining order is granted. The following are just examples of the relief which may be granted:
  • Restrain Respondent from committing any acts of domestic violence against Petitioner or the Petitioner's immediate family;
  • Restrain Respondent from abuse, threats, harassment or contact with Petitioner or any member of Petitioner's immediate family;
  • Award Petitioner temporary exclusive use and occupancy of the dwelling that the parties share;
  • Exclude the Respondent from residence;
  • Exclude Respondent from places frequented by the Petitioner and/or named family members;
  • Grant Petitioner temporary custody of the minor child(ren) of the parties; and/or
  • Order Respondent to temporarily surrender all firearms to the police department which is nearest to his/her home pending further order of the Court.

Permanent Injunction

What is the Criteria to Receive a Permanent Injunction?

A Temporary Injunction, is just that, temporary. If an individual wanted to petition for a permanent injunction, a new hearing is needed and the Court will determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that there may be domestic violence in the future.

A Petitioner may receive a permanent injunction from the court for an assault, battery, sexual assault or battery, stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any other criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death must have occurred or when it appears to the court that Petitioner has reasonable cause to believe he/she is in imminent danger of becoming the victim of an act of domestic violence.

In determining whether a Permanent Injunction for Protection Against Domestic or Repeat Violence should be extended, no new violence is necessary. The court may consider the circumstances leading to the imposition of the original injunction, as well as subsequent events which may cause the Petitioner to have continuing reasonable fear that violence is likely to occur in the future. Patterson v. Simonik, 709 So.2d 189 (Fla. 3d DCA 1998).

The following are just examples of the relief which may be granted in a Permanent Injunction for Protection Against Domestic or Repeat Violence:

  • Restrain Respondent from committing any acts of domestic violence against Petitioner or the Petitioner's immediate family;
  • Restrain Respondent from abuse, threats, harassment or contact with Petitioner or any member of Petitioner's immediate family;
  • Award Petitioner exclusive use and occupancy of the dwelling that the parties share (Respondent may be allowed to enter the home, accompanied by police, in order to retrieve items of personal property);
  • Exclude Respondent from places frequented by the Petitioner and/or named family members;
  • Grant Petitioner custody of the minor child(ren) of the parties (See, F.S. Sec. 61.13(2)(b)(2)); and/or
  • Award or prohibit visitation rights with the minor child(ren) of the parties, or limit visitation to that which is supervised by a third party.

For more information about obtaining a Florida Injunction, see:

Thursday, January 25, 2007

How Should Child Support Be Determined For The Really Rich?

There was a recent article in the newspaper about a prominent Florida attorney who had his child support obligation for his twin girls reduced from $28,000.00 per month to $5,000.00. Mr. Gary, the subject of the article, was estimated to make $1,000,000.00 per month and his original child support obligation was based on that income. However, after a hearing, a Judge reduced Mr. Gary's child support amount because of the mother's spending habits and her lack of a job.

In most states, monthly child support obligations are based on a formula. In Florida, the total net income for both parents is assigned a monthly child support amount and the obligor is responsible for a portion of that amount based on what percentage his/her net income is in comparison to the parties' total net income. The formula has a total net income topping out at $10,000.00 per month, therefore, the question then becomes, how do we determine how much child support someone should receive when net incomes are greater than $10,000.00 per month? Some people argue that it should just be a percentage of a person's monthly net income. Other people believe that you should look at the totality of the circumstances and then assign a number. Truth be told, there is no good way to determine the right amount of child support for the super rich. What I think needs to be done in order insure that child support, no matter what the amount, goes to the proper parties (meaning the children), is to monitor where the funds ultimately end up, especially in cases where a child support award is thousands of dollars per month. If a person is buying mink coats and paying for fancy dinners with money that he/she has been awarded as child support, it seems clear that this type of abuse should be punished. I don't necessarily believe that the punishment should be a reduced child support award. Ultimately, child support awards should be reflective of the earnings of both parties, however, when child support is not being used for its intended purpose, something needs to be done to force the obligee to use the funds received for their proper earmarked purposes, or suffer penalties and fines.

If you would like to read the article in its entirety about Mr. Gary, it can be found at:

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Being Financially Smart During A Divorce

One of the biggest mistakes people make when they are going through a divorce is getting emotionally attached to assets. Many times people find themselves arguing about a piece of furniture that they hate, just to spite their soon to be ex. This can be detrimental on so many levels, including financially. Fighting over assets that you really have no interest in owning prolongs a process that can be relatively quick and can costs hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary attorneys' fees. Many people hire professionals to help them make good decisions about their pensions, homes, businesses, etc. One such type of professional is a Divorce Financial Analyst.

Michele Ash is a certified Divorce Financial Analyst in Northeast Florida who taught a class at Florida Community College at Jacksonville’s Downtown campus to help people understand the financial issues that come about during a divorce. Her main goal is to equip people with information so they don't suffer long term financial consequences after their divorce as a result of making decisions based solely upon their emotions. She has two major rules of thumb and they are (1) try to be objective rather than emotionally tied to your assets; and (2) think long term. When you think rationally about your assets and consider where you want to be financially in a few years, you are more likely to make sound decisions about assets and who should receive them at the conclusion of your divorce.

If you would like to learn more about Divorce Financial Analysts, specifically Michelle Ash, see the following:

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Divorce Later In Life

More and more people are waiting until much later in life before deciding to divorce. When people are in their 70s or older, and have been married for 40 or more years, people often wonder why now? According to studies and research on this issue, one of the main contributing factors to the rise in late in life divorce is retirement. When people retire, they have different ideas than their spouse about what to do with their new found freedom. People basically state that just because they have been married for quite some time doesn't mean that they shouldn't get divorced when the marriage is no longer a happy one. While people have much more to lose when they divorce someone they have been married to for over 20 years, there is a growing trend for couples to move on, regardless of the effect it will have on their finances and their grown children. An even more surprising fact is that it is the women divorcing the men. The myth that men trade in their wife for a younger version once they become "middle-aged" has less and less merit with each and every passing day.

While divorce at any age is life-changing, it is even more so for these couples who have spent their entire adult lives with one another. Not only is it life-changing for the couple, it also has a profound affect on adult children. Whether or not this trend will continue through the next generation is still up for discussion. Needless to say, the fact that 50% of all marriages end in divorce is a statistic that is not solely for people in the 30s and 40s.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Guardian Ad Litem

Florida has a Guardian Ad Litem program and the major flaw in the system is not enough volunteers. A Guardian Ad Litem ("GAL"), is a person who is appointed by the Court to advocate for what is best for a child, usually in the confines of a juvenile dependency proceeding. The GAL's job is to gather information concerning the allegations contained in a dependency petition, meet with all concerned parties, including the child and report this information to the court. The GAL is a person who is in a unique position to insure that a Judge will have all relevant information and facts before deciding what is best for a child's future. The people who lend their time to the GAL program do not get paid, which may be a reason for the shortage in volunteers. However, there are thousands of abused, neglected or abandoned children here in Florida, including Orange County, who need people to look out for them in the Court system.

If you would like to learn how you could become a Guardian Ad Litem in Orange County, Florida, go to the following: or

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Bias and Alimony Awards

We live in a day and age when women hold powerful jobs and many times are the top wage earners in their family. There are stereotypes from Hollywood to the heartland when it comes to men who seek alimony from their higher paid spouses. While women who seek alimony from their ex-husbands may still be seen in a negative light by some, they are not faced with the difficulties that men face given the same economic circumstances. Men not only have to face the sneers from their peers about seeking alimony from a woman, they have an uphill battle in proving to a Judge that they are entitled to the post dissolution support. In my opinion there shouldn't be any sex bias when it comes to alimony awards. An alimony award should be based on the length of the marriage, need and ability to pay (among other things), not whether the party seeking the support is a man or a woman.

To read an article about bias and alimony awards see:

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Good Idea on Paper, Bad Idea in Reality

I was watching television this morning and there was a small news item which caught my attention. A couple in Brooklyn, New York, who are going through a divorce, were ordered to have a drywall partition put into place in their home. Neither party wanted to leave the marital home, so the wall went up so that the couple could reside in the home together without having to have any contact with one another. The "wall" literally cuts the home in half. This approach to resolving differences during the duration of a divorce is certainly novel, however, it may create more problems than it intends to solve. First and foremost, it is not a healthy living environment for anyone, including the parties' children. Secondly, this cannot be a permanent arrangement. The sooner a couple learns to adjust to the changes that are brought upon by divorce, including the need to create two separate homes, the sooner a divorce can be finalized. Finally, more often than not, a marital home is a couple's largest asset and many times ends up being sold. Any unusual or damaging things that are done to the home during the duration of a divorce can devalue the house which is not in any one's best interest. While splitting a house in half may make an interesting news story, it doesn't necessarily make good sense in reality.

If you would like to read about the Brooklyn couple that this blog entry is based on, see:

Friday, January 19, 2007

New Court Structure To Help Domestic Violence Victims

As of January 1, 2007, the domestic relations division of the Orange County Circuit Court here in Orlando has been restructured. The main purpose of this restructuring is to provide greater protection to those people who are victims of domestic violence. Previously, to obtain an injunction, all the domestic circuit court judges would take take turns hearing injunctions. Many times, you would have to wait hours before your matter could be heard on your scheduled hearing date, and you may have been forced to sit and wait in the same room as the person from whom you are seeking protection. In an attempt to remedy that situation, a new system has been put into place whereby all domestic matters, including divorces and child support enforcement, that have domestic violence issues will be heard by one of three judges. The jury is still out on whether this new system will work, but I think it is a positive step in the right direction.

To read more about the Court's restructuring, see the following article published in the Orlando Sentinel:,0,6082460.story?coll=orl-news-headlines-orange

Thursday, January 18, 2007

What Can't Be Waived In a Prenuptial Agreement

More and more couples are entering into Premarital Agreements in order to protect their financial interests prior to marriage. These types of agreements are valid and recognized throughout the country, but there is still much debate as to what can be contained in a Prenuptial Agreement. People are putting everything into their agreements from waiver of intestacy rights to agreements about what religion a couple will be raising their children. In Florida, it is important to recognize what type of things cannot be waived.

  1. Temporary Support Obligations, including attorneys' fees for dissolution proceedings (See, Belcher v. Belcher, 271 So. 2d 7 (Fla. 1972).
  2. Child support, child custody and visitation. (See, Ervin v. Chason, 750 So.2d 148 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000). Generally speaking, the Court gets the final say in what is in the best interests of the children.
  3. Certain waivers to pension benefits due to ERISA requirements. (See, Hurtwitz v. Sher, 982 F.2d 778 (2d Cir. (S.D.N.Y.) (1992).

Regardless of what it is a party is waiving in a Prenuptial Agreement, that waiver must be clear and concise in order to avoid any potential validity problems in the future.

For more information on Prenuptial Agreements See:

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Orange circuit judge's conduct under scrutiny

The papers today are filled with articles concerning allegations of Judicial misconduct. Recently here in Orlando, Florida, Judge James Hauser, a domestic relations judge, has been scrutinized based on allegations surrounding his own divorce.

Whether or not a Judge should be held to a higher standard of moral conduct than regular citizens has been debated for years. The consensus seems to be that people who are in a position of power should be held to a higher moral standard than the average citizen, and this would certainly pertain to our Judges. The reality is that everyone has personal problems including Judges. The question then becomes whether those personal problems are affecting a Judge's ability to do his/her job. If the answer to that question is no, a Judge shouldn't lose his/her position on the bench unless his/her credibility has been tarnished. If a Judge presiding over criminal matters is charged with a criminal felony, it seems logical that his/her credibility has been shattered, regardless of whether he/she is convicted. However, with domestic issues, the answer is much more gray.

If you would like to read the article concerning Judge Hauser, see the following link:,0,4887194.story?coll=orl-home-headlines

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Judges Mull Ruling On Who Is Dead Teen's Dad

By Jane Musgrave
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 04, 2007
WEST PALM BEACH — An appeals court Wednesday seemed to take a dim view of a long-absent father's continuing efforts to cash in on the police shooting death of a son he barely knew.
"To me, this is a very easy case," appeals court Judge Robert Gross said of the protracted dispute over who is the real father of 16-year-old Jerrod Miller, who was shot dead by a Delray Beach police officer nearly two years ago.
In 1995, Gross said, a judge ruled that Kenneth Miller was the father of both Jerrod and his twin, Sherrod. Even though a DNA test last year showed that there is a 99.9 percent probability that Terry Glover fathered the twins, the Orlando truck driver never challenged the 1995 ruling, Gross said.
"I don't think the judge had any choice but to appoint Mr. Miller," Gross said, referring to a Palm Beach County Circuit Court decision that Kenneth Miller should be named personal representative of Jerrod's potentially lucrative estate.
Martha Warner, one of two other 4th District Court of Appeal judges to hear the case, seemed to agree.
While calling it an "interesting and knotty case," she said: "We already have a judgment that says Mr. Miller is the father."
During the 30-minute hearing, Glover's attorney insisted there are many reasons Circuit Judge Karen Martin erred and his client's genetic test trumps the 1995 court ruling.
Further, with the clock ticking toward a Feb. 27 deadline to sue the city of Delray Beach over Jerrod's death, attorney Patrick Cousins urged the appeals court to move quickly.
Famed Stuart litigator Willie Gary, who is representing Kenneth Miller, has already alerted the city he intends to slap it with a $7.5 million wrongful death lawsuit. The suit has stalled as the Miller and Glover battle over who is Jerrod's legal father and therefore has the right to sue the city.
As it has from the start, the case turns on ugly nuances - many that can't be proved because the twins' mother, Gwen Cornelius Gatling, died of a heart attack in 2003.
Cousins claims Kenneth Miller was named the twins' father by default. Miller didn't attend the court hearing. The judge simply accepted Gatling's word that he was the boys' father, he said.
Steven Goldsmith, who represents Kenneth Miller, pointed out that his client attended the twins' birth, signed their birth certificates, paid child support and was involved in their lives.
Cousins disagreed. He claimed Miller's mother, not him, raised the boys after their mother died. Further, he said, Miller owes roughly $161,000 in child support for the boys and their two sisters. Miller claims the amount is $5,000.
Cousins insisted that Glover wanted to be involved in his sons' lives but Gatling made him promise not to tell anyone he was their father. After she died, Cousins said, Glover tried to establish a relationship with them.
Still, he acknowledged, neither man would win father-of-the-year honors.
"None of the fathers in this case are picture-perfect," Cousins said.
But, he said, since Jerrod, who didn't have a driver's license, was shot by a rookie cop as he drove through a breezeway at the Delray Full Service Center during a school dance, Glover has forged a relationship with Sherrod.
"He now recognizes my client as his father," Cousins said.
Kenneth Miller and his mother, Phyllis Miller, disagreed. They said Glover didn't as much as send his son a card for his 18th birthday in October or for Christmas.
Phyllis Miller said Sherrod Miller didn't attend the hearing by choice.
"He was afraid that he would have to come," she said while standing outside the courthouse. "He doesn't want to come."
On the other end of the courthouse steps, Glover proudly reported that Sherrod has made him a grandfather. A boy, Little Sherrod, was born last month, he said.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Amicable Divorce Is Possible!!

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal, tells the tale of a wealthy couple who over a glass or two of wine, amicably split their assets upon deciding to divorce. Tim and Edra Blixseth were able to come to an agreement about who was going to get what assets without the need for an attorney or Judge. While this is certainly not the norm, there is a growing trend for couples to work together to dissolve their marriages and divide their assets. In the end, this type of arrangement can be fair, quick, inexpensive and in the interest of both parties. More often than not, hurt feelings, resentment, or unrealistic ideas of what one is entitled to can curb a couples' ability to settle their divorce without the help of a Judge or a professionally trained mediator. However, obtaining a divorce and being in control of your own future is possible.

If you would like to read the article about Tim and Edra Blixseth in its entirety, it can be found at:

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Protect Your Wallet In a Divorce

During a divorce, many people are surprised when assets or debts hidden by their spouse are uncovered during financial disclosure. The following article has some helpful tips to insure that there are no surprises, in the event you are headed for a divorce. While not all the information contained in the article is legally correct, there is good information and suggestions which could assist you in being on top of your finances.

Protect your wallet in a divorce

Don't leave a marriage with your finances in turmoil. Here's how to preserve your financial health.September 20, 2005: 1:44 PM EDT By Shaheen Pasha, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Making plans to preserve your assets in case of a divorce may not be very romantic. But with half the population headed for divorce court after a trip down the aisle, it's not such a bad idea.
Marriage, like diamonds, is supposed to be forever. That notion invites couples to become lax when it comes to their own financial independence. In many marriages, one partner leaves financial details in the hands of the other spouse. Bad move, experts say.
"The legal process of a divorce has an ending and people can even get over the emotional strain of dealing with a divorce," said Fadi Baradihi, president of the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts. "But once you sign a financial divorce settlement you will have to live with that decision for the rest of your life."
And that can be a costly decision. According to a study by The National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, a woman's standard of living usually drops by 27 percent after a divorce, while a man's standard of living actually increases by 10 percent. Part of the problem is that women are more likely to be unaware of the family's financial status, making it difficult to negotiate a proper settlement.
So whether you're thinking of making the split or just prefer to err on the side of caution, here are some tips to avoid being blindsided in the event of a divorce.

Don't stick your head in the sand
Yes, looking at bills all day – not to mention those long, indecipherable tax forms – can be a headache, but there's no better way to get a sense of your finances.
"Make sure you read every financial statement and are aware of every investment that you have with your spouse," said Stacy Phillips, divorce attorney and founding partner at Phillips, Lerner and Lauzon LLP. "Be educated and don't be na├»ve – if something doesn't look right, investigate."
Phillips said when one person is in charge of all the finances, there's a higher chance that there is hidden income. Tally all the expenses from basic household bills to items such as private school tuition and compare that to the income reported on your tax return.
"If the tax return says your household income is $30,000 and you pay $25,000 in private school tuition, something is wrong," she said.
When in doubt, consult a financial planner or sit down with a family lawyer or accountant to go over the documents.

Make the copy machine your best friend
Whether you're already thinking about divorce or just trying to be informed, make sure that you make copies of every financial document available, said Stacy Francis, a certified financial planner and certified financial divorce analyst at Francis Financial.
Organize files in a cabinet with copies of 401(k) statements, life insurance policies, house appraisals, brokerage accounts, money market accounts and, of course, tax returns.

Maintain your own credit
And keep copies of credit card statements. Often one spouse is more inclined to spend than another and it's in your best interest to know where the money is going. A spouse's debt can follow you in the event of a divorce if your entire credit report is based on joint credit cards and bank accounts.
"If one spouse knows the other is eventually going to file for divorce, it's not unusual for that person to rack of a bunch of credit card debt as payback," Baradihi said.
By maintaining a steady record of spending, you can fight liability for outlandish debt incurred by your spouse, he said.
An even better idea is to maintain good credit in your own name. Check your credit report yearly to make sure that there aren't unusual blemishes.
While more and more married couples are opting for separate bank accounts, in addition to one joint account, that's no guarantee that the money will be protected in the case of a divorce. Financial experts warned that accounts with income obtained during the course of a marriage are considered to be the property of both spouses, regardless of the name on the account.

Stamp your name on everything
Make sure your name is included in the title or deed of any property that you purchased with your spouse. While many states will assume that property purchased during the course of the marriage is marital property, individual state laws can vary depending on whether you contributed money or not.
And keep in mind that property you had before the marriage can also be considered marital property, Baradihi said. A vacation home that you bought before the marriage, for instance, could be considered a joint property if you used it as a family getaway.
Francis Financial's Francis recommended that couples seriously consider a prenuptial agreement to preserve any assets or property that you had before marriage. A prenuptial agreement can also be structured to provide protection for personal gifts and inheritances that you or children from a previous marriage may receive. It can also be structured to provide spousal support in the event of a divorce, alleviating some concerns later on.

Revise your will
Financial planners recommend that couples create a will upon marriage and especially after the birth of a child. But Francis said it's common for couples going through a divorce to forget to revise their wills or insurance policies to reflect a change in beneficiary.
If a spouse remarries and then dies without making any changes to his or her prior will or policies, any assets will revert to whoever is listed as a beneficiary, even if that person is an ex.

This article can be found at:

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Divorce Court Typo Hits Paycheck

Anyone who hasn't seen a copy of their credit report could take some advice from Eddie Taylor of Murfreesboro: Look at it.

Taylor discovered last year his own credit report wasn't what he thought it was after he learned that due to a typographical error, his paycheck was being garnished to pay child support to a Memphis woman he had never met.

"It's been a long, drawn-out process," both to clear the error from state records and to repair his credit rating, since he learned about the error in the middle of last year, he said. An error involving the mistyping of his middle initial in the office of a Memphis divorce court led to the trouble, he said.

State and local officials later admitted the mistake, but he was told he would have to contact the four major credit rating agencies on his own to remove the mistake from his record. Just last week, the Tennessee Department of Human Services sent a fax to the consumer reporting agencies notifying them of the error, but that was after he had gone through mountains of paperwork and spent two of his annual vacation days in Memphis to that very end.

"I had to do most of the work on my own to get this released," he said. "It was a long, drawn-out process to get this released from a typographical error that started 200 miles away from here. Why should I be out of time and money when they caused the problem?" Taylor wonders.
He believes he could have gotten the matter resolved much earlier if he had seen a copy of his credit report. "It's something that ought to be sent out once a year to everyone in the United States," he said. "You shouldn't have to beg for it or pay for it. That's our name and Social Security number and our credit report."

Read the entire article at The Daily News Journal.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Obessession with Celebrity Divorce

(PRWeb) January 10, 2007 -- Total Divorce announces the addition of its new Celebrity Divorce Spotlight. Inspired by the runaway popularity of the Celebrity DUI Spotlight at affiliate site Total DUI, the Celebrity Divorce Spotlight offers the latests news on celebrity splits, squabbles, and settlements.Wondering whether Michael Jordan had a prenup? Whether Paul McCartney will persuade Heather Mills to give him custody of their three year old daughter? More interested in Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, or hoping against hope that Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillipe will reconcile? The Celebrity Divorce Spotlight is the one-stop shop for celebrity heartbreak, and there seems to be a lot of it going around. Chad Lowe responded to Hilary Swank's revelation that their marriage ended in part due to his substance abuse problems with an admission--and the declaration that Swank was the love of his life. Meanwhile, Eminem finalized his second divorce from ex-wife/wife/ex-wife Kim Mathers only a year after the couple remarried, and singer Rod Stewart and model Rachel Hunter finally divorced after seven years of separation (and a reported new engagement for Stewart).

The information here can be found at:

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Children's Bill of Rigthts in Divorce

During a divorce, children are often put in the middle of their parents' dispute, which can cause a deep and emotional impact on a child. To protect your children's rights during your divorce, you must work with your ex-spouse and constantly be aware of your words and how you treat each other. It is important to remember that your children are not peacemakers and should never be put in the middle of your divorce. The following is adapted from The Truth About Children, Dealing With Emotions So You and Your Children Can Thrive, Emery, Robert E., 2004, Viking Penguin.

A Children's Bill of Rights In A Divorce

  1. The right to love and be loved by both of her parents without feeling guilt or disapproval.
  2. The right to be protected from his parents' anger with each other.
  3. The right to be kept out of the middle of his parents' conflict, including the right not to pick sides, carry messages, or hear complaints about the other parent.
  4. The right not to have to choose one of her parents over the other.
  5. The right not to have to be responsible for the burden of either of the parents' emotional problems.
  6. The right to know well in advance about important changes that will affect his life; for example, when one of his parents is going to move or get remarried.
  7. The right to reasonable financial support during her childhood and thorugh her college years.
  8. The right to have feelings, to express his feelings, and to have both parents listen to how he feels.
  9. The right to have a life that is as close as possible to what it would have been if her parents had stayed together.
  10. The right to be a kid.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Adoption Consents in Florida

In Florida, a birth mother's consent to an adoption is legal, binding and irrevocable upon her signature, if the child is six (6) months old or younger. The only way to combat a birth mother's consent to an adoption is by showing that the consent was obtained through fraud or duress. If the child is six (6) months old or older, the birth mother has three (3) days to revoke her consent. In a recent story that has grabbed national attention, a birth mother fled to Canada with her 17 month old twins in violation of a visitation arrangement that she had with the adoptive parents. As a result of her actions, she may face jail time and may never be allowed to visit with the children again. Friends of the birth mother in this case state that she gave her consent to the adoption because she was sick and weak and was unable to think clearly when she gave her consent to the adoption. Given the fact that pregnancy and birth can be quite traumatic and its very possible that a birth mother is unable to think clearly postpartum, I think that we should consider revising our adoption laws here in Florida to allow for a more reasonable period of time within which a birth mother can give her consent to an adoption.

If you would like to read more about the case discussed here click on the link below:

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Cohabitation Prior to Marriage

There is a growing trend in the United States for a couple to live together prior to marriage. In fact, more and more couples are choosing to own property together outside the bounds of marriage. This co-ownership is referred to as a "joint tenancy". There are many positives from this type of an arrangement, here are just ten (10) of them:

1. RIGHT OF SURVIVORSHIP. When one joint tenant dies, title to the property automatically passes to the other, without the need to go through the formal probate process. If only one member of an unmarried couple holds title to the property and does not have a will granting the property to the other party, it would pass to the deceased's legal heirs, who are usually family members, despite any contrary intentions on the part of the couple.
2. PREVENTS FINANCIAL HARDSHIP. On the other hand, if the relationship does not last, neither party can simply walk away and leave the other solely responsible for the mortgage, since they are joint debtors and share that financial obligation equally.
3. PROOF OF OWNERSHIP. If the relationship does not last, each party has sound legal proof of his or her entitlement to an equal share of the property.
4. SHARED DEBT. As joint tenants, you are most likely also joint debtors. If both partners are named on the mortgage note, neither is saddled alone with the corresponding debt and they both share equally in this financial burden.
5. SHARED ASSET. Purchasing your house as joint tenants means that you equally share ownership of your home, which is perhaps the greatest asset you will own in your lifetime. Equal ownership of assets can create a balance of power in the relationship.
6. PREVENTS GIFT TAXES. If only one member of an unmarried couple owns the home and he or she lets the other party live there rent-free, the IRS may consider that arrangement a gift to the nonpaying partner. If that gift is worth over $10,000 a year, or the equivalent of about $833 rent per month, the giver-or the homeowner-will have to pay gift taxes. This tax complication can be avoided, however, if the homeowner charges the other partner rent and keeps accurate books and records reflecting the payments.
7. TAX BENEFITS. Home ownership can provide significant tax benefits to the couple. These benefits can, however, be more complicated when the couple is unmarried. A married couple that owns a home can take the mortgage and property tax deductions on their joint tax return. An unmarried couple cannot file a joint return and will have to figure out how to divide those tax benefits. If it makes more economic sense for one party to claim the deductions, the other should be compensated in some other way, such as by being responsible for fewer household expenses.
8. FINANCIAL SECURITY. Becoming joint tenants, or homeowners in general, usually makes more long-term financial sense than paying rent together year after year. Home ownership is an investment that can provide financial security for both partners and even partially fund your retirement. As joint tenants, both partners can tap into the equity in the home in case you need money for other purposes in the future.
9. SHOWS COMMITMENT. Owning a home as joint tenants can demonstrate the long-term commitment in your relationship.
10. IT'S SIMPLE. Joint tenancy is easy to achieve. It can be accomplished simply by including a clause referring to that form of ownership in the title to the property.

The information here can be found at:

Monday, January 8, 2007

New Approach to Preserve Two Parent Family

Published January 7, 2007


Hours after giving birth to her daughter, Stephanie Lopez lay in a hospital bed, tired and elated. Relatives streamed in to gaze at the baby. Among them was a woman Stephanie had never seen before.
The stranger wore hospital scrubs, carried a clipboard and extended an invitation: Did Stephanie and her boyfriend, Mohamed Khan, want to build a stronger family that would nurture their daughter?
As part of a federally funded program, a home visitor would teach them parenting skills. Stephanie and Mohamed would attend weekly meetings with other couples to work on their relationship. They would spend couples' nights bowling and playing miniature golf.
Mohamed thought it sounded like fun. Stephanie took it as a sign from God.
"I was questioning our relationship a lot," she said later. "We had gotten in a few arguments, and I had gotten to the point where I thought we needed some counseling. The only thing is, we didn't have the money for that."
On that August day, their chances of staying together didn't look good. They had only been dating a couple of months before Stephanie got pregnant.
Mohamed was a 29-year-old Muslim from Guyana who wore baggy jeans and a diamond stud earring; he liked the idea of marriage, but a few months before his daughter's birth, he was still spending half his paycheck on designer clothes and bottles of Hennessy in nightclub V.I.P. rooms.
Stephanie was 21, a churchgoing Puerto Rican with a habit of listing her goals for self-improvement on sheets of notebook paper. Her family took a dim view of marriage; her mother had raised her alone, after splitting with the man Stephanie called "my sperm donor."
"She basically taught me the rules of life: If you don't do it for yourself, nobody else is going to do it for you. Don't depend on anybody. Don't trust anybody."
Now, the federal government is trying to instill a different lesson: that two parents can be better than one; that a woman can depend on the father of her child; that marriage can work. In October, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced it will spend $150-million a year through 2011 on marriage promotion and responsible fatherhood programs, including $33-million in Florida.

A national crisis
For Stephanie, who enrolled in a marriage-education pilot program with Mohamed shortly after their daughter was born, relationship classes aren't just about getting married; they're about finding a government-funded route out of poverty. Along with work and school, marriage seems to offer a shot at transformation, from what Stephanie calls "a statistic" to a stable, middle-class family.
"I don't ask for a lot of luxury or expensive things," she said, "Just so I can live comfortably and not have to worry, 'Is this bill going to be paid?' Just simple things like that."
A decade ago, welfare reform became the first federal legislation to make marriage an explicit policy goal. Calling the rising number of unwed pregnancies and births a "crisis in our nation," its authors revamped welfare to focus on "promoting job preparation, work and marriage."
Since then, the government's marriage initiative has gone from a hot-button political issue to that rare social policy on which liberal academics and Bush administration officials can agree. Families with two incomes are less likely to be poor, and studies show married people earn and save more.
Research also suggests marriage is good for children. Studies show children born to unmarried parents have more behavioral problems, higher rates of teen pregnancy and delinquency, lower educational attainment and more problems finding and keeping jobs.
"Marriage by itself is not an antipoverty program, but marriage is not irrelevant to poverty," said Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services, who has been driving federal marriage policy since 2001.

Dangerous unions?

Some antipoverty advocates say marriage education shifts government funds from reducing poverty to promoting family values. Some domestic violence experts say it risks forcing poor women into dangerous unions.
But officials say the programs are voluntary and promote "healthy marriages." Many who once opposed the policy now support it.
"We all laughed and said, 'Oh God, they're going to tell everybody they should be married,' " said Pat Gerard, chief operating officer of Family Resources Inc. in Pinellas Park, which will receive more than $5-million in marriage-education funding over the next five years, the largest federal grant in the state.
"Five years ago, I probably wouldn't have applied for it, the way it was coming out and the politics behind it. But I can certainly see how there's a lot of advantages to having these services and de-stigmatizing them."
The pilot program that Stephanie and Mohamed joined is part of a federally funded research project teaching relationship skills to low-income couples in Florida and a handful of other states since 2005. In Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, it is run by Healthy Families Florida, a state-funded child abuse prevention program.
Couples who are unmarried and have a child together or married since their child's conception attend group relationship classes, working through modules with titles like "Two Sides to Every Fight" and "When Endless Fights Turn Harmful."

Financial incentives

They get intensive help finding jobs and solving money problems because strained finances are a key cause of fights. The program put $500 toward Stephanie and Mohamed's apartment, they said, and gave them gift cards for Best Buy and Bath & Body Works to reward their attendance.
"It's actually like they're paying us to go to it," Mohamed said. "But if they said, 'You have to pay for the program,' I think I would, because the benefits that we get from the program, for us as a couple, it's well worth it."
But the program is working against long odds. Bobbie-Jo Spada and Kevin Sayre recently completed three and a half months of relationship classes in Orlando. A certificate hangs on the wall of their modest concrete block house, but after three and a half years as a couple and two children together they don't seem any closer to marriage.
"He thinks it will ruin the relationship," said Bobbie-Jo, 24. "We don't even discuss it anymore."
Compared to other struggling couples, their stability is heartening. Kevin, 28, owns his house and has a steady job as a heating and air conditioning mechanic. Bobbie-Jo dropped out of high school at 15, but now spends her days patiently doling out potato sticks and toys to her son, daughter and niece.
In marriage, though, they have no obvious role models. Bobbie-Jo's parents fought violently, she said. Kevin's mother left his father when Kevin was six months old; his stepfather committed suicide.
Bobbie-Jo is still hopeful. On a recent afternoon, she acknowledged she would be lost without Kevin. But she wants a mark of their commitment.
"I don't want to be a girlfriend for the rest of my life," she said. "The way I look at it is, I've already had two of your kids. I've been here for three years. I'm not going anywhere. I think a marriage proposal would be nice."

Closer to the altar

Stephanie and Mohamed seem closer to marriage, but they aren't there yet.
Mohamed dropped out of high school, got his GED and makes $14.50 an hour as a cable tech. He somehow manages monthly payments on a sleek silver Jaguar, yet is so frustrated by money problems that he said he sometimes feels like putting his fist through the wall.
Stephanie makes $13.42 an hour as a surgical tech at a local hospital; she plans to start nursing school in the spring. When she got bored in high school, she would list her goals, a tribute to a mother who "always told me you can do anything you want to do," she said. Having a baby out of wedlock wasn't on the list. Neither was getting married at 22.
"I questioned myself a lot about, 'Do I need to be with him,' " Stephanie said. "My mom raised me as a single parent. Why do I need him?"
It was Mohamed who pushed to stay together, despite their fights.
"I don't want to be the guy who has a kid with one person and another kid with another person," he said. "Now that I have a kid, this is the person I want to spend my life with."

A public misstep

On a recent afternoon, their home visitor, a motherly 44-year-old named Ada Miranda, advised them about when to feed cereal to their 4-month-old daughter, Brianna Ashley, and how to treat her eczema. Ada admired pictures from the previous Saturday, when Stephanie and Mohamed had skipped relationship class to go to a friend's wedding.
"Ooh, you look gorgeous in that picture!" Ada said, gazing at Mohamed in a dark suit and Stephanie in a white and gold dress. "You guys look like you could get married."
No one said anything.
"So the wedding was good for you guys?" Ada asked.
"It was good to a point," Mohamed said. "I did something wrong. I don't really want to talk about it."
The wedding had upset him. He and Stephanie were deadlocked over what kind of ceremony to have since she was Christian and he Muslim. He watched his friend's marriage wistfully, wishing for one of his own.
At the reception afterward, things got worse. When it came time for Stephanie to drive them home, he yelled and banged on the dashboard. She got scared.
"To me it was like a bad ghost came along," she said.
The next morning, Mohamed drove to Target and bought Pampers. He stopped at Starbucks to pick up a caramel macchiato for Stephanie. He knocked on his own front door like a stranger.
Stephanie could tell he was trying to make up. She thought about the lessons they had learned in the group, especially the "gentle startup," a technique to keep difficult conversations from spinning into fights.
What do you have to say for yourself? she asked.
They talked for an hour. At one point, he got angry, but he realized he was wrong and calmed down. He started the conversation again, "gently, without any yelling or anything," he said, "and we resolved it without any yelling or anything."
They didn't discuss the fight with Ada, and she didn't press them. Instead, she turned to Brianna.
"Look at how comfortable she is with you guys," Ada said. "Can you imagine yourselves without her right now?"
"It would be kind of boring," Stephanie said.
"Life wouldn't be life without her," Mohamed said, drawing Brianna close. "The day she was born, that's when my life started."
By the time Saturday rolled around, the fight seemed to have faded. Before relationship class, Mohamed vacuumed the apartment and laid out frilly pink baby clothes for Brianna. Stephanie bathed her and taped on a fresh diaper.
On the kitchen counter lay a list of goals Stephanie hoped to accomplish in the new year.
1) Start school by May
2) Save money at least $1000 by end of the year
3) Plan wedding for Sept. 2007


Mohamed surprised Stephanie with a diamond ring on New Year's Eve.
They plan to marry Sept. 15 on a cruise ship, in a ceremony they can agree on.
Times researchers Angie Drobnic Holan and Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Vanessa Gezari can be reached at or (727) 893-8803

This article can be found in its entirety at:

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Cooperative Parenting

Once a divorce is final, a parties' marital relationship is terminated, but their parenting relationship is far from over. Many couples need assistance when transitioning from a married couple to a divorced couple when faced with decisions about their children. There are many mental healthcare professionals throughout the country who specialize in cooperative parenting. Cooperative parenting is a way to arm divorced couples with the necessary skills and tools to succesfully manage the parenting of their children.

If you would like to learn more about cooperative parenting see the following:

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Post Nuptial Agreements

Postmarital agreements or postnuptial agreements are agreements entered into after a marriage has taken place, but before the parties seek to end their marriage. As with premarital agreements, one or both of the parties usually is seeking to protect assets or income in the event of divorce or death.

A married couple may seek to enter into a postmarital agreement after a significant financial change or a period of marital conflict. The law regarding the validity and enforcement of postmarital agreements is not well developed.

The standard for enforcement of postmarital agreements most likely is similar to the standards discussed earlier for enforcement of premarital agreements. Key criteria for validity of the agreements include: full disclosure of assets, absence of duress, and fairness.

When a man and woman are married (instead of just contemplating marriage), they may be held to a very high standard of fairness when dealing with each other on financial issues--perhaps a higher standard than would be the case if they were entering into a premarital agreement.

When entering into a post-martial agreement, it would be a good idea for the parties to articulate in writing why they are entering into the agreement and to be sure the agreement is fair for both parties.

The information here can be found at

To learn more about post nuptial agreements go to:

Friday, January 5, 2007

Collaborative Law

As more and more people are turning towards a non-adversarial way to resolve their divorces, a new approach to the process called collaborative law has emerged. In the colloborative process, each party has their own attorney, however, prior to going forward with the divorce, all of the parties must agree to set aside adversarial strategies and further agree to not litigate their case. The parties will sit down with their respective attorneys and attempt to resolve their divorce without litigation. When parties are capable of working together to resolve their divorce, collaborative law is a great and cost efficient way to move their case forward.

To learn more about collaborative law and whether it is right for you, visit the following links:

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Bankruptcy and Divorce

Many people who are going through a divorce are faced with the prospect of filing for bankruptcy after their divorce is finalized, or have experienced one or more bankruptcies prior to the commencement of their divorce proceeding. It is important to have information about how prior bankruptcies or a future bankrupcy will affect your divorce. The following link provides helpful information regarding how bankrutpcy affects your divorce.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Questions Couples Should Ask Before Marrying

As we enter into 2007, many couples are starting off the new year with an engagement. Not every marriage ends with a happy ever after. Setting expectations and knowing where your significant other stands on certain issues can be critical to the longevity of a marriage.

Relationship experts report that too many couples fail to ask each other critical questions before marrying. Here are a few key ones that couples should consider asking:

1) Have we discussed whether or not to have children, and if the answer is yes, who is going to be the primary care giver?
2) Do we have a clear idea of each other’s financial obligations and goals, and do our ideas about spending and saving mesh?
3) Have we discussed our expectations for how the household will be maintained, and are we in agreement on who will manage the chores?
4) Have we fully disclosed our health histories, both physical and mental?
5) Is my partner affectionate to the degree that I expect?
6) Can we comfortably and openly discuss our sexual needs, preferences and fears?
7) Will there be a television in the bedroom?
8) Do we truly listen to each other and fairly consider one another’s ideas and complaints?
9) Have we reached a clear understanding of each other’s spiritual beliefs and needs, and have we discussed when and how our children will be exposed to religious/moral education?
10) Do we like and respect each other’s friends?
11) Do we value and respect each other’s parents, and is either of us concerned about whether the parents will interfere with the relationship?
12) What does my family do that annoys you?
13) Are there some things that you and I are NOT prepared to give up in the marriage?
14) If one of us were to be offered a career opportunity in a location far from the other’s family, are we prepared to move?
15) Does each of us feel fully confident in the other’s commitment to the marriage and believe that the bond can survive whatever challenges we may face?

From, The New York Times (

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

How To Find a Good Mediator

More and more states are not only encouraging couples to mediate in order to resolve their divorces, but are requiring them to do so before allowing them to have their cases heard by a judge. Mediation is a great tool that gives you the opportunity to have complete control over the outcome of your divorce. A great mediator can be the key to a successful mediation. Every mediator has their own style and not every mediator may be right for the particular issues you may have. Personal referrals are usually the best way to find any professional. If someone had a successful mediation, chances are their mediator was part of the reason why their case settled without litigation. When looking for a mediator use the following:

  • Expertise. Some mediators are former lawyers. Some are therapists. You want to pick a mediator whose background matches your needs. If the law and finances are fairly simple, you might want to look for a mediator with a therapeutic background. If there are a fair number of legal issues and substantial property, but you are both calm and cooperating well, then a mediator with a legal background might be best.
  • Knowledge. Does he or she understand the financial matters that concern you? Can he or she present them in a way that helps you understand them?
  • People skills. Will he or she be able to bring the two of you together enough to conclude the business of the mediation?
  • Impartiality. In order to be effective, the mediator must not lean either to one party or to the other. You must both trust that the mediator will be impartial, and will have both your interests at heart.

The information provided here can be found at

Monday, January 1, 2007

Happy New Year

Its my pleasure to announce the opening of my law firm, Christine G. Bauer, P.A. Please visit my website if you are interested in learning more about me and my practice.

I will be updating this blog as family laws news, events and changes in the law occur. My intent is to provide useful content about divorce and other family law issues.

I look forward to making this blog a good place on the web to find helpful information and articles about all things family law. Happy New Year!!!!

Christine G. Bauer, Esquire