Classifying and Dividing Property in a Florida Divorce
In some states, divorce almost always results in a 50-50 property division. But Florida is different. The Sunshine State is an equitable distribution state. The marital estate, which includes both debts and assets, must be divided equitably. That’s not necessarily the same thing as an equal division. Furthermore, in Florida, a divorce cannot be an unfair financial burden for either party.
Unless the marriage was very brief or the parties had a premarital agreement, property classification and division is usually the most time-consuming portion of a divorce claim. Due to Florida’s complex laws, marital property classification, let alone property division, is quite difficult. Unless a strong Port St. Lucie family law attorney represents you throughout the divorce, the final resolution might not reflect your best legal and financial interests.
The overall rule in this area seems rather straightforward. Nonmarital property is anything acquired by gift or prior to the marriage. Everything else is marital property which the final divorce order must equitably divide. However, largely because of issues like commingling and transmutation, property classification usually requires more than a calendar and a calculator.
Commingling is the mixture of marital and nonmarital property. For example, Wife might use money from her paycheck (marital property) to pay off her student loans (nonmarital debt). In this situation, Husband might be entitled to a disproportionate share of marital property to make up for Wife’s dissipation (waste) of said property.
Transmutation is a change of character. Assume Husband acquired a rental house prior to the marriage. WIfe used a wedding gift from her parents to fund improvements to the house. Depending on the facts, the house, and all future rental income, could be Husband’s nonmarital property, Wife’s nonmarital property, or marital property subject to equitable division.
In this case, the size of the gift probably settles the transmutation question. If the house was unlivable before Wife’s financial contribution, the house is probably her nonmarital property. On the other hand, if Wife’s contribution funded cosmetic changes, like new landscaping and lighting, the house is probably still Husband’s nonmarital property.
To equitably divide property, judges look to a number of factors, including:
- Length of the relationship,
- Standard of living during the marriage,
- Noneconomic contributions to the relationship,
- Custody of minor children,
- Earning potential of each spouse, and
- Agreements between the spouses.
That last bullet point might be the most important one. Most judges approve most property settlements, as long as they uphold some other key property distribution factors.
Mediation normally resolves property division disputes. If both sides negotiate in good faith during mediation, this litigation alternative is usually successful.
Count on an Experienced Lawyer
Marital property disputes are often complex. For a free consultation with an experienced Port St. Lucie divorce lawyer, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.