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    Family Law Legal Research Blog

    Brett R. Turner

    Recent Posts

    Prejudgment Attachment and Child Support

    Posted by Brett R. Turner on Mon, May 1, 2023 @ 14:05 PM

    Brett R. Turner, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group, Inc.

             Mother and Father married in 1996 and had two children. Mother filed for divorce in 2019, and the divorce was granted in July of 2021. Father was ordered to pay child support.

                In October 2021, three months after the divorce, Father filed to reduce child support, alleging that he had been terminated from his job. He then failed to make his October and November child support payments and was also not in compliance with the property division terms of the decree.

                Father was in the process of selling a piece of real estate, the Carpentersville property, awarded him in the decree. In mid-November, Mother moved the court to order the proceeds from that sale be placed in escrow, with the proceeds used to satisfy Father's child support and other obligations under the decree. The trial court granted the motion to the extent of holding the sale proceeds in escrow, and Father appealed.

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    Topics: family law, division of marital property, divorce hearing, child support obligation

    Custody, Visitation, and COVID-19

    Posted by Brett R. Turner on Wed, May 13, 2020 @ 11:05 AM

    Brett Turner—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                The ongoing COVID-19 crisis is affecting the lives of all Americans in many ways. One of those many ways is the exchange of children under custody and visitation orders.

                This is a very uncertain area of the law, with essentially no court decisions yet available, but several basic points can be noted. First, the mere existence of the crisis, if neither the children nor any parent has actually been exposed to COVID-19, is probably not alone a sufficient basis for noncompliance with any custody or visitation order. Indeed, emergency orders issued by the governor in at least three states—Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio—expressly list travel required by a custody or visitation order as essential for purposes of travel restrictions. These provisions would seem to suggest a policy that mere fear of COVID-19, without any specific evidence of a risk of exposure to the virus, is not alone a sufficient basis to modify an order or excuse noncompliance.

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    Topics: family law, Brett R. Turner, COVID-19, mere fear not sufficient for noncompliance, custody and visitation

    FAMILY LAW: Modern Technology and the Definition of "Writing"

    Posted by Brett R. Turner on Wed, Jun 19, 2019 @ 12:06 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 44 No 4

    Brett R. Turner—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                One of the most common formalities required for family law agreements is that they must be in writing. At common law, premarital agreements were within the statute of frauds. The Uniform Premarital Agreements Act ("UPAA") requires that premarital agreement be both written and signed by both spouses. UPAA §§ 2, 5. Many states, by case law or statute, likewise require that divorce settlement agreements be written.  Amendments to family law agreements must also often be written.

                A generation ago, a writing requirement was easy to construe—the text of the agreement had to appear on paper. But in the 21st century, the world is increasingly paperless. It seems quite likely that the world of family law agreements will join the movement away from paper.

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    Topics: family law, Brett R. Turner, writing requirement, premarital agreement, Uniform Premarital Agreements Act

    Role of Assets in Determining Amount of Alimony

    Posted by Brett R. Turner on Thu, Dec 27, 2018 @ 11:12 AM

    Brett Turner—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                Permanent alimony awards are still alive and well in many states, especially when the marriage is long and there is substantial income disparity between the spouses.  When the court determines the amount of alimony, what effect do the receiving spouse's assets have upon the award?

                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.

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    Topics: family law, Brett R. Turner, alimony, receiving spouse's assets, spouse's assets

    Social Security Dependency Benefits and Alimony

    Posted by Brett R. Turner on Wed, Jul 18, 2018 @ 12:07 PM

    Brett Turner—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

         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][2] n.117 (2d ed. 2013).

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    Topics: family law, Disability, alimony, dependency benefits as child support, Social Security benefits

    FAMILY LAW: Imputing Investment Income for Purposes of Spousal Support

    Posted by Brett R. Turner on Tue, Feb 28, 2017 @ 16:02 PM

    Brett Turner, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

          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.

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    Topics: family law, spousal support, imputing investment income, real estate

    FAMILY LAW: Business Valuation Upon Divorce—Goodwill

    Posted by Brett R. Turner on Mon, Nov 7, 2016 @ 12:11 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 41 No 9

    Brett R. Turner, Senior Attorney,National Legal Research Group

         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.

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    Topics: family law, Brett R. Turner, business valuation, goodwill

    FAMILY LAW: Time Limits on Divorce Hearings

    Posted by Brett R. Turner on Wed, Apr 20, 2016 @ 16:04 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 41 No 4

    Brett Turner, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

         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.

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    Topics: family law, Brett R. Turner, arbitrary cutoff, divorce hearing, time limit

    FAMILY LAW: Constitutionality of Grandparent Visitation Statutes

    Posted by Brett R. Turner on Tue, Jan 19, 2016 @ 13:01 PM

     The Lawletter Vol 40 No 12

    Brett Turner, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

         One of the hardest issues in all of family law is grandparent visitation. In Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Washington state statute allowing the court to award grandparent visitation based only upon the best interests of the child, finding that such a broad standard violates the liberty interest of the parents in having custody of their children.

         But Troxel did not decide what the proper standard for grandparent visitation is; it decided only what that standard is not. Case law since Troxel has disagreed substantially as to what grandparents must prove in order to be awarded visitation.

         No state has written more opinions in fewer cases on this issue than Alabama. In Ex parte E.R.G., 73 So. 3d 634 (Ala.2011), a nine-judge court wrote six separate opinions on the subject. The end result was that the court struck down Alabama Code section 30-3-4.1, which allowed the court to award grandparent visitation on a pure best-interests basis.

         The legislature then added the following language to the statute: "If the child is living with one or both biological or adoptive parents, there shall be a rebuttable presumption for purposes of this section that the parent or parents with whom the child is living know what is in the best interests of the child." Ala. Code § 30-3-4.1(d).

         The constitutionality of the modified statute arose recently in Weldon v. Ballow, No. 2140471, 2015 WL 6618983 (Ala. Civ. App. Oct. 30, 2015) (not yet released for publication), in a case in which the child lived with a biological parent, so that the statutory presumption applied. The issue was whether the presumption saved the statute. Answering this question required a five-judge court to write four opinions. But when the votes were tallied, the statute was held unconstitutional for a second time.

         The first opinion, signed by two judges, construed Troxel to provide that grandparent visitation cannot be awarded based on a best-interests-of-the-child standard alone, regardless of the burden of proof. "Under the 2011 amendments," while the burden of proof is reversed when the child is living with a parent, "a court can still award grandparent visitation over the objection of a custodial parent if the court decides that it is in the best interests of the child. The [Grandparent Visitation Act], as amended, continues to invade the fundamental rights of parents to make their own determinations as to the best interests of their children." Id. at *14.

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    Topics: family law, Brett R. Turner, grandparent visitation statutes, constitutionality, best-interests standard

    FAMILY LAW: Delegation of Power to Decide Custody and Visitation

    Posted by Brett R. Turner on Thu, Oct 1, 2015 @ 15:10 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 40 No 8

    Brett Turner, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

         In In re Marriage of Iqbal & Khan, 2014 IL App (2d) 131306, 11 N.E.3d 1, the two parties, of the Islamic faith, signed a separation agreement ("PNA"). The PNA named a prominent member of the local Islamic community as Counselor. It then provided:

         Husband and Wife agree that an unreasonable divorce (without Counselor's express written approval) is a violation and contrary to the purposes and intents of this agreement, and an unreasonable divorce sought by either party will forfeit their rights to custody of the children and any rights conveyed in this agreement. If either party seeks an unreasonable divorce, they hereby agree to surrender full custody rights to the other, and agree to only reasonable visitation rights to the Children.

    Id. ¶ 28, 11 N.E.3d at 10 (quoting PNA).

         The trial court held that the PNA was completely unenforceable, and the appellate court affirmed. To begin with, by providing that a party who sought an "unreasonable divorce" lost custody, and by giving the Counselor exclusive power to define "unreasonable," the PNA delegated to the Counselor the power to determine custody. Such delegation violated public policy:

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    Topics: family law, Brett R. Turner, Islamic separation agreement, unenforceable agreement, public policy violation

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