Divorce, or dissolution of marriage, is the legal process of terminating a marriage contract, which is overseen by a court of law in the state in which one or both of the divorcing spouses reside. The process for obtaining a divorce and acceptable grounds for divorce depends on the state.
For instance, in Florida, a divorce can be completed on average in a minimum of 200 days, with the necessary court fees. The state has divorce residency requirements that mandate the spouse filing for the divorce to have lived in Florida for a minimum of six months.
Furthermore, in Florida, the property and debt distribution issues raised during a divorce are often settled between the parties in a marital settlement agreement. But when parties cannot reach an agreement, a Florida court intervenes to divide a couple’s assets and liabilities.
Even though many property settlements are decided upon outside the courtroom, the factors judges depend on in dividing property affect the relative strength of each side’s bargaining position. Accordingly, understanding how a court allocates the property upon the dissolution of a marriage is critical for any party to a divorce.
Moreover, in the absence of an effective marital agreement, upon divorce:
- Each spouse keeps his or her nonmarital assets;
- A couple’s marital assets are subject to equitable distribution;
- The wealthier spouse may also have to pay alimony to the less wealthy spouse calculated based on the wealthier spouse’s income and;
- The division of marital assets and the determination of alimony in each case might be impacted by the inheritance structure that has been created.
What is Characterized as Marital and Non-Marital Assets?
Nonmarital assets include assets acquired before marriage, the following are a few examples:
- Assets acquired by bequest, devise, or descent;
- All income from nonmarital assets unless the couple treated, used, or relied on the income as a marital asset;
- Assets excluded by a valid marital agreement; and
- Assets acquired in exchange for nonmarital assets following the Florida guidelines.
Furthermore, the marital assets include assets acquired during the marriage by the spouses either individually or jointly:
- Enhancement in value and appreciation of nonmarital assets from the efforts of either spouse during the marriage or by the expenditure of marital funds or assets;
- The paydown of principal on a note and mortgage secured by nonmarital real property and a portion of the passive appreciation of such property;
- Interspousal gifts during the marriage; and;
- All vested and unvested benefits, rights, and funds accrued during the marriage in retirement, pension, profit-sharing, annuity, deferred compensation, and insurance plans.
The Florida Bar describes equitable distribution as the presumption to divide marital assets equally unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution based on all relevant factors.
The law states that “the court shall set apart to each spouse that spouse’s nonmarital assets and liabilities, and in distributing the marital assets and liabilities between the parties, the court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution based on all relevant factors.”
What is Equitable Distribution In Florida?
Similar to most states, Florida employs “equitable distribution” in dividing marital property upon divorce as mentioned above. Under Florida’s equitable distribution statute, the starting presumption is that each party usually receives half of marital assets and liabilities regardless of fault. However, the financial situation of each spouse is taken into account in adjusting the distribution, as are certain other specific exceptions to the definition of what is marital and what is non-marital.
Moreover, “equitable” does not necessarily imply “equal.” Some allegations are made in the initial divorce pleadings for the court to apply the equitable distribution statute to divide assets and liabilities, and any requests for unequal distribution should be pleaded for specifically and then substantiated during the discovery process with documentary evidence. Further assistance can be sought from a legal professional.
What Factors Are Considered by the Court in Equitable Distribution?
One of the main characteristics of a Florida divorce court is to classify which property and debt are to be considered marital. Generally, all property acquired by either spouse before the marriage is considered non-marital property, and all property acquired after the marriage is marital property as stated earlier.
Additionally, there are several exceptions: for instance, property acquired by gift or inheritance is generally not considered marital property. When the marital and non-marital property has been mixed or commingled, a court may be able to untangle the assets, but sometimes combined property can become marital property. The Florida statute provides that non-marital property that has been titled in joint names becomes marital.
Moreover, the statute states that the distribution of marital assets and liabilities should be presumed equal unless there is justification for an unequal distribution based on other factors which may be relevant. For instance, one of those factors is the contributions to the marriage by each spouse. This can include financial contributions but encompasses care and education of the couple’s children and sacrifices as a homemaker.
Furthermore, the economic circumstances of each party are considered (a spouse with greater financial need upon the dissolution of the marriage may receive more), as is the duration of the marriage. The judges will examine whether the educational goals of either spouse have been interrupted and whether one spouse personally contributed to the other spouse’s career or educational goals. These factors will impact how the Florida courts divide the property.
Keep in mind that plans for property can be significant too. If one spouse wants to keep certain assets in their same form without any interference (for instance, a desire to keep an interest in a business free from interference by the other party) and the desire to retain the marital home as a residence for any dependent children can both be taken into account.
Another factor is the relative contribution of each spouse to the acquisition, enhancement, and production of income or the improvement of both the marital assets and the non-marital assets of the parties. The Florida statute warns against the intentional dissipation, waste, depletion, or destruction of marital assets after the filing of the divorce petition or within two years before the filing, and a court would likely account for this type of conduct in making a property award of one-half the dissipated marital funds to the aggrieved spouse.
Lastly, Florida’s equitable distribution statute has a catch-all provision that permits the courts to consider any other factors necessary to do equity and justice between the parties. However, this typically does not include considering adultery or other issues of fault; according to the Florida Supreme Court. The purpose of equitable distribution is not to punish adulterous behavior, and the only way infidelity is relevant to the financial scene is when it can be demonstrated that adulterous behavior has depleted marital resources.
There are a couple more aspects to keep in mind when considering property distribution factors. For one thing, any marital debt must also be divided between the parties, and a court will examine the same facts in deciding which spouse will be responsible for any liability. In addition, it is critical to note that property distribution imposed by a court only applies to marital property.
When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?
If you reside in the state of Florida and are having issues with your divorce, regarding the property. It is recommended to reach out to your Florida divorce attorney to assist you further in your case. Your attorney can provide you with guidance and representation for your case.