The George Zimmerman Divorce from a Pennsylvania Perspective
Shellie Zimmerman, George Zimmerman’s wife, filed for divorce last week in Seminole County, Florida, less than two months after he was acquitted of murder in the death of Trayvon Martin.
Ms. Zimmerman says in her divorce complaint that the parties, who married in 2007, “separated on Aug. 13, 2013 are not presently cohabitating as husband and wife. The marriage between the parties is irretrievably broken.” Although the Zimmermans have no children, Shellie Zimmerman is asking for custody of the parties’ two dogs. Additionally, Ms. Zimmerman requested equitable distribution of the parties’ assets and debts, which includes a $3,700.20 tax bill from 2011. Since their separation, Zimmerman has given his wife, who is unemployed, $4,300.00 for living expenses, the source of which she believes to be the Zimmerman Legal Defense Fund. Since Shellie Zimmerman’s divorce filing, there have been allegations of infidelity made against George Zimmerman. Zimmerman’s wife believes that he began an affair with his ex-fiance shortly after his acquittal but before the parties had separated.
Although the parties will be divorcing in their home state of Florida, where the law is much different than in Pennsylvania, if the parties were divorcing in the Keystone State, the courts would unlikely rule on custody of the parties’ dogs. In Pennsylvania, pets, dogs included, are considered property and are thus subject to equitable distribution. In other words, when the parties’ property is divided pursuant to the divorce, the court will decide who gets ownership, not custody, of the dogs. Even if Shellie and George worked out a “custody arrangement” between themselves in regards to the animals, if one party violated the agreement, a Pennsylvania family court would unlikely enforce such an agreement.
One source of contention during the divorce may be the Zimmerman Legal Defense Fund. Although it is unknown at this point how much money is left in the fund, Zimmerman and his wife raised hundreds of thousands of dollars while Zimmerman’s criminal case was pending. As it appears George recently gave Shellie as much as $4,300 from the fund, you can assume there is still quite a bit remaining. George will likely argue that the fund is non-marital, while Shellie will argue that it is marital. In Pennsylvania, only marital assets, i.e. those acquired from the date of marriage to the date of separation, are subject to equitable distribution. Additionally, gifts and inheritances are not considered marital assets, except in limited instances. George would likely argue that the donations received in the defense fund were gifts to him and him alone. However, as donations to the fund were also solicited to help with the parties’ living expenses and security expenses, Shellie would likely have a valid argument that the donations were gifts to the both of them, entitling her to her proportional share of the fund.
It is unclear at this point if Ms. Zimmerman has or will be filing to receive spousal support or alimony pendente lite from her husband. However, as she is unemployed and seemingly has no assets available to her, while George has sizable assets in the form of his defense fund, it is likely that she will file for support if she has not already. In Pennsylvania, once you file for support, it may take a few weeks to over a month before your initial support conference. However, the filing party is entitled to arrears from the date of filing to the date the order is entered. Additionally, the paying spouse would be entitled to a credit for any payments made to the dependent spouse during the time between the support filing and the hearing. Therefore, if the $4,300 payment from George to Shellie was made after she filed for support, he would get a credit for that payment on his arrears. If he made it before she filed for support, he would not be entitled to the credit, however he could still get a proportional credit for the payment in equitable distribution.
Finally, although Shellie Zimmerman believes her husband has been having an affair, Pennsylvania courts do not give much consideration to such misconduct unless one files for a fault based divorce based on adultery. While marital misconduct is one of seventeen factors the court may consider in considering an alimony award, it is not relevant at all for the division of the parties’ assets. Shellie has stated to the press that she wants her divorce to end with a whimper rather than a bang, implying that a divorce settlement might be in the works, so it is possible that none of these issues may ever reach the courtroom. If you have concerns about a divorce and need a consultation, call one of our Pittsburgh family law attorneys at McMorrow Law, LLC 724-940-0100.