Classifying and Dividing Marital Property in St. Lucie County
Like most other jurisdictions in the country, Florida is an equitable distribution state. Marital assets and debts must be divided equitably, which is not necessarily the same thing as equally. Additionally, before they can be divided, they must be classified. Nonmarital property is not subject to division.
Port St. Lucie divorce attorneys must be mindful of the equitable distribution rules both in courtroom arguments and during pretrial settlement negotiations. Legal arguments which involve Florida rules on the subject often resonate with the judge. And, the court will likely not approve a settlement agreement which does not result in an equitable property division.
Especially if the marriage lasted longer than a few years, property usually became commingled. These knots are difficult to untie.
Assume Husband owned a rent house prior to the marriage. Then, Wife used a wedding gift from her parents to fund improvements to the house. Both the house and the gift are clearly nonmarital property. Depending on the facts, the house could be Husband’s nonmarital property, Wife’s nonmarital property, or marital property which is subject to division. The same thing is true of any future rental income.
Let’s look at these hypothetical facts a bit closer. If Wife’s gift went to new landscaping and other cosmetic improvements, the house is probably still Husband’s separate property. However, Husband might have to reimburse Wife for her expenditure.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if Wife’s gift funded foundation repairs or other structural improvements, the house might have transmuted and become her separate property.
Anything else, such as new carpeting or perhaps an addition to the home, is probably in a grey area. A monetary transfer between Husband and Wife might be appropriate. For example, Husband could retain full title to the house, and all future rents, if he transferred a few thousand dollars to Wife.
To assist in the classification process, attorneys sometimes partner with forensic accountants and other such professionals.
Dividing Marital Property
Determining the character of the property is only part of the problem. To divide marital property on an equitable basis, Florida law sets forth a number of factors, including:
- Length of the marriage,
- Current economic circumstances of each spouse,
- Probable future earning potential of each spouse,
- Noneconomic contributions to the marriage (the “homemaker” factor),
- Dissipation (waste) of assets, and
- Any agreements between the parties.
A word about dissipation. Normally, fault in the breakup of the marriage, such as adultery, is not relevant for property division purposes. But the dissipation rule is different. If Husband spent $10,000 on gifts for girlfriends, Wife might be entitled to $5,000, or her share of that marital property.
Another word about agreements between the parties, and specifically premarital agreements. Generally, Florida judges always uphold such pacts, as long as they are not grossly one-sided (e.g. “I get the assets and you get the bills”) and each spouse had an independent family law attorney through the entire process.
To bring about an equitable division, a setoff may be appropriate. For example, Wife might accept less alimony if she receives a larger share of Husband’s retirement account.
Count on a Dedicated Lawyer
Property division disputes are often complex. For a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Port St. Lucie, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.