General information on dissolution of marriage

HB 409 Approves Online Notarization

Florida Greenlights Online Notarization

We lawyers love paper.  Look at any lawyer’s desk and you will likely see reams and reams of paper, many of which require notarization.

But, more and more, this is becoming a paperless world.  In fact, courts and clerks of court have recognized this reality with the advent of Florida’s e-filing portal.  In this way, paper documents that used to be required to be couriered or mailed to a court can now be submitted electronically.

Yet, notarization still tends to be done with paper copies, with a party having to appear in person in front of a notary public.

This will all change with the enactment of Florida HB 409 which provides for Registration and Authority for Online Notarization.  Below is a summary analysis of the bill from the House of Representatives:

Summary Analysis

CS/CS/HB 409 passed the House on April 24, 2019, and subsequently passed the Senate on May 2, 2019.

Certain documents require a notary public’s presence and signature. Current law prohibits a notary from notarizing a signature if the party executing the document is not in the notary’s physical presence at the time of signature.

A will is a legal document used to designate the distribution of a person’s assets upon death. To be valid, a will must follow certain formalities with respect to its creation, execution, preservation, revocation, and filing. A will must be signed:

 By the testator, who is the person making the will; and
 In the presence of two witnesses, one of which must testify to the authenticity of the will, unless the will is self-proved.

The bill authorizes remote notarization and the use of an electronic will. Specifically, the bill provides:

 Definitions for online notarization and the required technology;
 Procedures, standards, and requirements for online notarization;
 Registration requirements for online notaries;
 A certificate to be used by online notaries;
 Standards for supervising the witnessing of electronic records; and

The bill also authorizes the use of an electronic will. An electronic will is executed, modified, and revoked in a similar manner as a paper will under current law. The bill provides a means for self-proving, storing, and filing an electronic will. The bill creates a “qualified custodian” who is responsible for possessing and controlling the electronic will.

The bill may have an indeterminate, though likely insignificant fiscal impact on state government expenditures.

The bill was approved by the Governor on June 7, 2019, ch. 2019-71, L.O.F., and will become effective on
January 1, 2020, except as otherwise provided.

So, beginning on January 1, 2020, notaries may begin offering online notarization with a party needing to be physically present in front of him or her.  In fact, the party does not even need to be located in the State of Florida so long as the notary is located in the state.

Keep in mind that the notary will need to utilize specialized platforms, and the party will need to have access to audio and visual equipment.  Additionally, the law requires the notary to hold a minimum bond.  Accordingly, not every notary will offer online notarization, but access to online notaries should be relatively easy.

Effect on Divorce and Family Law

In the divorce and family law arena, there are many documents that get notarized, which may include the following (depending on your matter):

  • Petition;
  • Answer;
  • Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) Affidavit;
  • Financial Affidavit;
  • Certificate of Compliance with Mandatory Disclosure;
  • Notice of Social Security Number;
  • Waiver;
  • Parenting Plan; and
  • Marital Settlement Agreement.

When you are in the middle of something as emotionally draining as a divorce, adoption, or paternity matter, you may not have the energy to come to an attorney’s office or go to a bank or other provider and get these items notarized in person.

Accordingly, beginning January 1, 2020, your life will be made a little easier with the option of online notarization.


Adam B. Cordover is a collaborative attorney, mediator, and trainer.  Adam is also co-author of Building A Successful Collaborative Family Law Practice (ABA 2018).

Is There A Better Way To Divorce?

Divorce is never easy.  I oftentimes hear people going through the stages of grief when discussing divorce, as if a loved one has died.  And, in a very real sense, divorce does signify the death of a relationship.

But imagine if, when a loved one died, you then picked a battle and entered a very public adversarial court system.  Your every move is scrutinized by a lawyer looking to portray you in the very worst light.  You are subjected to depositions and court hearings and a wide-net fishing expedition through all of your personal and financial matters.  And, all of this could be exposed to public scrutiny, as hearings and the court file are open for public viewing.

All of this, while you are experiencing the grief and trauma of death.  In this case, the death of a relationship.

There has got to be a better way to divorce, right?  To avoid the public indignity of an entrenched fight, right?

Fortunately, there are alternatives.  One alternative, which in this lawyer’s opinion is best for most families, is collaborative divorce.

Non-Adversarial Process

Collaborative divorce is a non-adversarial process.  Each spouse retains a separate attorney, and the two attorneys are there solely for the purpose of reaching an out-of-court agreement.  In fact, the collaborative attorneys are prohibited by law, once a collaborative process is started, from fighting in court.

Imagine that, attorneys helping clients reach a peaceful resolution.  The attorneys spend no time, no energy, and no money on opposition research, motion practice, or demonizing either spouse.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

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Alimony Tax Deduction: Is It Too Late To Divorce in 2018?

Have you heard the news about the alimony tax deduction?  It is going away for divorces finalized after December 31, 2018.  But fear not!  If you and your spouse act smartly and quickly, you can still lock in your alimony tax deduction.

What is the Alimony Tax Deduction?

The alimony tax deduction is currently enshrined in 26 U.S. Code section 215.  It states that alimony (as opposed to child support or distribution of property) can be tax deductible to the payor and taxable to the payee.  This means that the person who pays alimony will pay less in taxes, and the person who receives alimony will pay taxes on it as if it were regular income.

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Next Generation Divorce

Sample Collaborative Participation Agreement

Is divorce on your horizon?  If so, are you fearing entering a public adversarial system where husband is pitted against wife, and mother is pitted against father?  Fortunately, there are alternatives.  One alternative is the collaborative divorce process, where you and your spouse sign a participation agreement that states, among other things, that your attorneys can only be used to help you reach an agreement outside of court.  This means that none of you or your attorneys’ time, energy, or billable time goes towards opposition research, motion practice, or costly trial preparation.

The collaborative participation agreement spells out the rules of the collaborative process.  Below you will find a sample participation agreement that I oftentimes use in my cases here in Florida.  Please note that different professionals and different communities use different participation agreements.  Further, the same professional may have different participation agreements depending on the type of matter or the complexity of the matter.

As I have had the fortune to model my participation agreement based on the work of others, I welcome other professionals to modify and adapt the collaborative participation agreement below as their own:

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The Truth: Alimony is Arbitrary

I recently came across an article on how alimony is awarded in different states.  The article, titled “A Survey of Lawyers’ Observations About the Principles Governing the Award of Spousal Support Throughout the United States,” was written by J. Thomas Oldham of the University of Houston Law Center.  Here is the abstract:

Abstract

At the beginning of this project, I distributed 5000 questionnaires to family lawyers around the country. I asked the lawyers to respond by estimating the spousal support award, if any, that would result for six hypothetical divorcing couples in their jurisdiction. While the response rate was not great, the responses received suggest that there are three different types of spousal support systems in the U. S. today. In some states, spousal support is rarely awarded, and then only to prevent severe hardship. In others, spousal support is frequently awarded when the spouses’ incomes are substantially different at divorce. In most states, however, it appears that there is no clear spousal support policy, and the award, if any, in any given case is the result of which judge is assigned to hear the matter. In these states, spousal support determinations appear to be arbitrary. I have included as an appendix to my article a summary of the responses.

Some states have responded to this lack of clarity regarding spousal support standards by adopting guidelines. These guidelines attempt to provide more uniformity in terms of award amounts and award duration. To date, they have not attempted to provide guidance regarding when a spousal support award is warranted. In this article, I discuss how spousal support standards could be clarified in those states where there appears to be no clearly accepted policy.

I would say that Florida falls into the last category:  there are no alimony guidelines, and the amount you might receive or pay is highly dependent on the whims of the judge you are in front of.

That is, if you let the judge decide the amount of alimony.

You Can Be Your Own Judge

More and more families are coming to realize that going through a court battle is, in most cases, the worst possible way to divorce.  If you choose a private form of dispute resolution, such as the Collaborative Process, you and your spouse will have the final say on the amount of any alimony.

In the Collaborative Process, you and your spouse each have separate attorneys to guide you.  However, the attorneys are not there for opposition research or to prepare for trial; rather, they are there solely for the purpose of helping you reach an out-of-court agreement.  This means that no time, energy, or money is spent fighting in court.

Oftentimes, a neutral financial professional will help you and your spouse develop and analyze financial options that work best for your family.  The financial neutral can do a lifestyle analysis to determine what has been spent in the past and where there might be efficiencies that can be created in a spouse’s cash flow.   The financial professional will oftentimes also look into whether there are tax loopholes that might allow the family to enlarge their proverbial pie.

So do your family and your future a favor and consider the Collaborative Family Law Process.


Adam B. Cordover is co-author of an upcoming American Bar Association book on Collaborative Divorce.  Further, Adam trains attorneys, mental health professional, financial professionals, and mediators in the Collaborative Process throughout Florida and the U.S.

Alimony Tax Deduction Repeal Delayed

As part of the U.S. Congress’ drive to reform the tax system, one issue that kept on arising was whether the alimony tax deduction would be repealed.  The House of Representatives passed a version of the tax bill that included a repeal for divorces finalized after December 31, 2017, while the Senate version of the bill included no alimony tax deduction repeal.

In conference, both houses agreed on a final bill that includes the repeal.  However, it will only take effect for divorces that occur after December 31, 2018.

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The Walking Dead: Who Is Judith’s Legal Father?

AMC’s The Walking Dead recently premiered its season 8 debut.  For the uninitiated, The Walking Dead follows former deputy sheriff Rick Grimes and others as they navigate a post-apocalyptic world of zombies (which they call “walkers”).

The Human Element of The Walking Dead

Even more interesting than interactions with the walkers, the show focuses in on the interaction between people.  Rick and the gang have fought off a host of bad guys.  A one-eyed psychotic governor.  Bar-B-Que loving cannibals.  Most recently, a baseball bat-wielding sadist with a sophomoric sense of humor.

But the most fascinating part of the show may just be its human drama surrounding relationships between Rick and his family.  Last season, Rick made a startling admission to Michone.  Michone is a samurai sword brandishing badass and Rick’s current love interest.  The admission concerned Rick’s daughter, Judith.

When the apocalypse started, Rick had been separated from his wife, Lori.  Lori escaped the initial chaos with Rick’s best friend, Shane.  Shane and Lori thought Rick had died with the initial wave of walkers, and Shane and Lori became romantically involved.

Lori and Shane’s relationship ended when they learned Rick was still alive.  Inevitably, tensions rose between Shane and Rick, which lead to Rick killing Shane.  Eventually, Lori gave birth to a child, Judith, though Lori did not survive the birth.

Which brings us back to Rick’s admission to Michone.  Rick tells Michone he knows that Shane is Judith’s biological father.

So who is Judith’s legal father?

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Need Help With A Simplified Dissolution of Marriage?

Are you and your spouse in agreement on how to divide your assets and debts?  Do you not have any minor or dependent children in common?  Are you both willing to attend a final hearing for dissolution of marriage together?  Then you and your spouse may qualify for a Simplified Dissolution of Marriage.

Simplified Dissolution of MarriageAdvantages of a Simplified Dissolution of Marriage

Florida has created a special type of divorce procedure with the hope of simplifying the process.  In most actions for dissolution of marriage, court rules require you to exchange what is known as “mandatory disclosure.”  These are financial and other documents with sensitive and private information.  So, in most divorces, you would exchange several years’ worth of tax returns, along with checking and savings account statements, credit card statements, and summary plan descriptions for retirement accounts.

In Simplified Dissolution of Marriage proceedings, you are not expected to exchange these documents unless specifically requested to by one of the spouses.

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You Already Have A Prenup

Congratulations, you are getting married!  You found the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life, and now you have a big, bright future ahead!  But now the P-word has come up: Prenup.

You and your fiance may be wondering whether to get a prenuptial agreement, also referred to as a premarital agreement.  It may be that one of you has significantly more assets than the other.  Perhaps there is a family business in play.  Maybe you have children from a prior relationship that you want to protect or you have other estate-planning needs.  Or maybe you just want to plan for all possible contingencies.

Prenup

So if you are considering a premarital agreement, there is something you should keep in mind:  You already have a prenup.

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Bitcoin and Divorce

Bitcoin and Divorce

Bitcoin is a relatively new type of currency that is not controlled by any government but rather is decentralized.  It is oftentimes referred to as a “cryptocurrency” as it is not physical.  Bitcoins are maintained in virtual “wallets” and can be transferred via QR codes.

The video below from the Wall Street Journal further explains Bitcoin:

As Bitcoin is becoming more popular, it should not be surprising that is showing up in divorce cases.  So what happens to Bitcoins in divorce?

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