When a spouse places a Global Positioning Systems ("GPS") device in the other spouse's vehicle without consent to monitor that spouse's movements and position around town, the admissibility of the GPS data in the divorce trial is likely to be challenged. In United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400 (2012), the United States Supreme Court held that a GPS tracing device is a "search" under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and absent a warrant allowing for the device to be used, data from the GPS device will be considered inadmissible. Further, in Carpenter v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 2206 (2018), the United States Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure also requires the government to obtain a search warrant before acquiring cell phone data, which the Court analogized to GPS tracking data. The Court recognized that "individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the whole of their physical movements. Allowing government access to cell-site records—which 'hold for many Americans “privacies of life,”’ . . . contravenes that expectation." Id. at 2209-10.Read More
Family Law Legal Research Blog
A good example of a modern permanent alimony case is Sweeney v. Sweeney, 420 S.C. 69, 75, 800 S.E.2d 148, 151 (Ct. App. 2017). The marriage there lasted for 28 years from marriage to filing of the divorce action. The husband had gross income of $34,100 per month, or $409,200 per year. The wife's gross income was very limited. Sweeney was clearly a permanent alimony case.Read More
Persons who suffer from serious disabilities can apply for and receive Social Security Disability ("SSD"). When a parent receives SSD, dependency benefits are also paid to the parent's dependents.
In the context of child support, a majority of states consider the noncustodial parent's SSD dependency benefits to be a form of child support, paid to the child from amounts previously withheld from the income of the parent. They are treated as income for purposes of child support, but the noncustodial parent then gets a dollar-for-dollar offset against child support for the amount of dependency benefits received by the child. See, e.g., Sealander v. Sealander, 789 So. 2d 401 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2001); Mooneyham v. Mooneyham, 420 So. 2d 1072 (Miss. 1982); Whitaker v. Colbert, 18 Va. App. 202, 442 S.E.2d 429 (1994). See generally Laura W. Morgan, Child Support Guidelines: Interpretation and Application § 4.07[J] n.117 (2d ed. 2013).Read More
The Lawletter Vol 42 No 2
Another case has confirmed the primacy of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act ("UCCJEA") over local jurisdictional rules that conflict with that statutory scheme. The Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama has reversed a trial court order that held the trial court had subject-matter jurisdiction over a child custody petition that was filed in Alabama by the child's father at the time the father filed a petition for divorce from the child's mother. Ex parte Holloway, No. 2150821, 2016 WL 4493653 (Ala. Civ. App. Aug. 26, 2016).
The parents were married in Alabama in October 2014 and they separated in June 2015. The father filed a complaint for divorce October 23, 2015 that included a request for custody of the parties' minor son, who was born September 20, 2015. The father alleged that the mother had abandoned the marriage and had moved to Mississippi to live with her mother. Alabama law provides: "Upon granting a divorce, the court may give the custody and education of the children of the marriage to either father or mother, as may seem right and proper." Ala. Code § 30-3-1.Read More
In Curtis v. Curtis, 887 N.W.2d 249 (Minn. 2016), the wife sought spousal support in a divorce case. But she received, as part of her share of the marital property, an Ameritrade account worth over $2 million.
The trial court held that the income from this account constituted income for purposes of spousal support. The account was invested in growth-oriented securities and produced income of less than $3,000 per year. This income was not sufficient to meet the wife's support needs. But the husband proved that the account could be reinvested into income-oriented securities at a rate of 7% per year and earn $9,500 per month in income. On this basis, the trial court imputed $9,500 per month income to the wife, and found that she had no need for spousal support. Minnesota's intermediate appellate court affirmed, and the wife appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.Read More
The Lawletter Vol 41 No 9
The South Carolina Supreme Court recently considered a case that provides a wealth of guidance on business valuation questions. Moore v. Moore, 414 S.C. 490, 779 S.E.2d 533 (2015).
The issue was one that arises often in divorce cases—is the goodwill of a business part of the business's value for purposes of a divorce case? Adopting the majority rule nationwide, the court held that the enterprise goodwill of the business is included, but that the individual goodwill of the owner is not included. Stated differently, the value includes goodwill that is transferable to another owner, but it does not include goodwill that is not transferable and resides in the owner individually.Read More
NLRG Senior Attorney Brett R. Turner has an article appearing in the Fall 2016 issue of the Family Advocate, published by the ABA Family Law Section. Brett R. Turner, Economic Claims Between Former Spouses Outside the Divorce Case, 39 Family Advocate 26 (Fall 2016).
The article focuses upon tort action between former spouses outside of the divorce context. It discusses actions to rescind fraudulent conveyance, actions for common-law fraud, actions for conspiracy and breach of fiduciary duty, and actions for conversion of property awarded to the other spouse. Other articles in the same issue address other aspects of Domestic Torts.Read More
The Lawletter Vol 41 No 8
The Supreme Court of Montana imposed a constructive trust on $2.3 million of proceeds of two insurance policies in a case in which the husband ("Husband") in a divorce proceeding changed the beneficiaries on the policies in violation of a restraining order issued by the court while the divorce was pending. Volk v. Goeser, 2016 MT 61, 382 Mont. 382, 367 P.3d 378.
Husband and wife ("Wife") were married in 1996, and they had a son, RBV, in 2000. In June 2010, Husband filed a petition for dissolution; that same day the trial court issued a restraining order under which the parties were not allowed to transfer assets while the divorce was pending. In December 2011, the parties entered into a settlement agreement in which, among other things, Husband agreed that "'[h]usband shall execute a will naming his son as beneficiary of his estate, giving all of his assets to his son.'" Id. ¶ 5, 382 Mont. at 384, 367 P.3d at 381.Read More
The Lawletter Vol 41 No 4
A perennial problem in family law practice is arbitrary judges who dislike family law cases and impose strict time limits upon trials. Appellate courts are aware of this problem, and in extreme cases they have granted relief.
In Kilnapp v. Kilnapp, 140 So. 3d 1051 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2014), the trial judge set a three-hour limit on the hearing. After only an hour had passed, the trial court abruptly ended the hearing. The wife had presented only one witness, and the husband's counsel had not even finished with direct examination of the husband. The appellate court summarily reversed. "The trial court erred when it denied the husband his basic and fundamental right to due process, specifically the right to be heard." Id. at 1054.
The husband did not have, of course, a right to be heard at unlimited length. For example, even if the husband honestly wanted an entire week of testimony, the trial court had discretion to impose a reasonable time limit.
But the time limit imposed in Kilnapp was unreasonable, in two different ways. First, a reasonable time limit should apply equally to both parties. In Kilnapp, the wife was able to present all of her evidence, while the husband was able to present only some of his.Read More
The Lawletter Vol 41 No 1
Resolving a question that is not expressly answered by the language of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction And Enforcement Act ("UCCJEA"), the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in Upson v. Wallace, 3 A.3d 1148 (D.C. 2010), held that if a trial court had home-state jurisdiction to issue an initial custody determination under the UCCJEA at the time the action was filed, then the court could still exercise that jurisdiction even after all parties had left the state.
In Upson, the child, Georgiana, was born in Virginia in May 2004. On March 2, 2005, the child's father, Wallace, filed for custody of Georgiana in Alexandria, Virginia. In April 2005, the child's mother, Upson, relocated with the child from Virginia to the District of Columbia.
Upson subsequently attempted to litigate custody in the District of Columbia, but Wallace's motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction was granted. Upson challenged the dismissal and ultimately was able to bring before the District of Columbia Court of Appeals the question of the validity of the custody order that had been entered by the Virginia court after all parties had left Virginia.Read More