Framing prenuptial agreements as estate planning tools

No one wants to begin a marriage by planning for its potential demise. Even so, couples in Florida who are marrying for a second or subsequent time should take precautions to ensure that their assets are protected from loss in the event of a divorce. Prenuptial agreements can be a difficult subject to broach, but the topic can be made more palatable by discussing the matter in terms of estate planning, rather than divorce.

Consider, for example, a couple comprised of two individuals with children from prior marriages. If the couple weds absent a prenuptial agreement, the assets that each brings into the union can be subject to loss if a death occurs. If one spouse suddenly dies, the other could inherit the full scope of assets. The decision of how to distribute those assets to all of the children involved will fall squarely on the shoulders of the surviving spouse.

Even couples who have only the best intentions are still lacking in protection if a prenup is not part of their estate planning approach. If the couple were involved in a serious car accident, for example, both spouses could die. That would leave assets in flux, and open to a number of probate challenges from all sides. The end result could be a distribution of assets that is far different from what either spouse would have wanted.

The best way to protect against this type of outcome is to create clearly drafted prenuptial agreements and estate planning documents prior to walking down the aisle. Doing so is a means of protecting children from both spouses, and is not indicative of a lack of confidence in the union. When approached from this angle, many Florida couples are able to reach an agreement on the matter, without putting their relationship at risk.   

Source: lacrossetribune.com, “Prenuptial agreements shouldn’t be a deal breaker in remarriages“, Tim Grant, Aug. 14, 2016

Why business owners should avoid divorce court

Business owners who divorce should seek an out-of-court settlement rather than one that is litigated in court. The unpredictable nature of litigation can lead to outcomes you ever expected.

A business owned by one or both spouses is likely to be the most important asset involved in the divorce. As a result, both parties may have a financial interest in protecting it. The best way to do that is to avoid a courtroom battle.

Financial disclosures and the divorce process

One of the facts of a contested divorce is a full financial disclosure to the court. This will include tax and other information for your business. Cash receipts and expense deductions can raise questions in the eyes of the judge. If the income from your business is not the same as what your tax returns show, the judge may order one or both parties to turn the information over to the Internal Revenue Service.

A further risk of having a judge decide what will become of your business is that you may end up with a decision that satisfies neither party. A judge may order the sale of assets that you will need to produce income. That income may be important to both you and your ex.

If you and your spouse negotiate an out-of-court settlement, you can prepare your own financial disclosure and compile information on your own timelines. Through a collaborative process, you and your spouse can engage a neutral financial professional or forensic accountant to ensure both sides are comfortable with the financial information you use to make your decisions. Once you reach an agreement, you can present your settlement to the court to approve.

Sheldon E. Finman, P.A., is a family law attorney in Fort Myers who helps his clients seek seeks less adversarial ways to dissolve a marriage.

Choosing the right attorney to assist with property division

When a Florida family is going through a divorce, having the best possible legal advice can make a world of difference in the eventual outcome. It is important to choose an attorney who is highly skilled at all aspects of divorce, including property division. Having a trusted legal advisor can make it far easier to reach a divorce settlement that is in line with a Florida spouse’s needs and goals.

In some cases, couples are committed to moving through their divorce in a collaborative manner. They want to reduce tension, avoid strife and have a simpler and less expensive divorce process. This is an admirable goal, and there are a wide range of benefits that come with a collaborative divorce approach. However, some couples believe that the best way to work together is to hire one attorney to process the divorce for both spouses. This is a mistake.

An attorney has a duty to place the needs of his or her client at the forefront of the divorce process. That means taking the time to understand the client’s unique set of needs and goals for the future, and then constructing a legal approach aimed at meeting those marks. It is impossible for one attorney to provide that service for both spouses within a marriage. Different divorce options, especially in regard to property division, will have differing outcomes for each spouse. It is virtually impossible for property division to be truly equal, especially in regard to the long-term consequences of various choices.

Having individual divorce attorneys does not necessarily place each Florida spouse in a position of attack with regard to the other. It simply provides the means for both sides to get legal advice that is tailored to their specific set of needs. That allows for property division negotiations that will serve the interests of each party, even when there are items that require compromise.  

Source: CBS Boston, “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: Understanding Divorce“, Dee Lee, Aug. 15, 2016

Man fans the flames of property division with an actual fire

While navigating the legal end of their marriages, Florida spouses must take care to control their emotional responses to these significant life events. This is a time in which numerous property division decisions must be made, and those decisions should be informed by reason rather than emotion. An example is found in the newsworthy case of a man who left a divorce hearing only to be arrested and charged with arson a short time later.

The main claims that his wife was unfaithful and that she left the family home with the couple’s children while the man was out of the country on business. He soon found himself in the middle of a divorce and faced with the need to renovate and sell the couple’s $791,000 home. After a hearing at which the wife was granted permission to move back into the property, the man apparently lost his ability to act in his own best interest.

A call was made to report a fire at the property. When first responders arrived, they found the man leaning against his car and laughing as he watched the house burn. He assured police that he had carefully checked to make sure that no one was home before filling the house with gasoline, opening a natural gas line and setting the place on fire. Police reports indicate that the man was highly intoxicated but cooperative as he was arrested.

Very few Florida spouses will have similar responses to the ends of their marriages, although many may think about such acts. It is imperative that anyone going through a divorce and subsequent property division makes choices that are guided and informed by a legal professional and not the individual’s own emotions. In this case, the husband’s rash reaction has not only led to his wife seeking protective orders but also to a very serious set of criminal charges.

Source: salemnews.com, “Builder, in midst of divorce, admits torching home, police say“, Julie Manganis, Aug. 1, 2016

Don’t delay divorce over alimony anxieties

Preparing to end a marriage is a serious matter. For many Florida spouses, concerns over all of the unknowns can be virtually debilitating. In fact, many couples stay married long after their union is defunct, based on worries concerning property division, child custody and alimony. As with so many things in life, the realities of these issues are often far less drastic or negative than people believe.

An example is found in a woman who recently sought advice about ending her marriage. As the primary breadwinner within her family and the mother of a 5-year-old little girl, she was terrified about taking steps to end her marriage. Even though she and her husband no longer functioned as a happily married couple, she expressed concern over the financial aspects of the divorce.

Fears about losing part of her pension, having to pay alimony and being forced to sell her home and divide the proceeds all added up to a situation in which she had become immobile. This is not an uncommon outcome, but it is an approach that is flawed. The fact of the matter is that a divorce will necessitate a division of assets. That process will be no easier one, five, or even 10 years down the road than it is right now.

The best way to combat fears surrounding property division, child custody and alimony is to seek the services of an experienced divorce attorney. He or she can sit down and discuss these issues in depth. Being well informed can give Florida spouses the confidence needed to take a step in the right direction. Often, having the full range of financial outcomes clearly defined is enough to make a spouse realize that there is little to fear from moving forward with divorce.

Source: thetimesnews.com, “Wife worries about impact of divorce“, July 22, 2016