How Is Property Divided In a Florida Divorce?
Property division is frequently one of the most significant challenges involved when parties file for divorce. Divorcing couples must manage their emotions as they untangle complex financial and family law issues. Having a qualified Florida property division lawyer can help parties repurpose their energy on the outcome of their case.
If you are a party in a divorce, an experienced lawyer familiar with property division can be an invaluable asset. The attorney at Stuart N. House, P.A., has more than 30 years of experience fighting for clients in property division cases.
How Property Division Works In Florida
Florida is an equal distribution state. Therefore, property acquired during the marriage by leveraging marital resources, funds, or labor is equally divided between the divorcing partners. This type of property is known as marital property. During the property division process, courts try to ensure each party maintains the same standard of living post-divorce that they enjoyed while married.
To this end, an “equitable distribution” doesn’t always mean assets are divided 50/50 between the parties. Instead, an equitable distribution means each party receives a share of the marital assets reflective of their contributions to those assets and the marriage at large.
For example, if the divorce involves children, one party may receive the entirety of the marital home to help that party raise the children and ensure they have a certain standard of living. Under certain circumstances, such as during divorces where one party committed an act such as adultery that leads to the dissolution of the marriage, the offending party may be penalized for their actions during the property division process.
Nonmarital property describes any assets and liabilities each partner acquired before the marriage. During a divorce, the court considers this property the sole, separate property of the party who originally acquired it. If you have separate assets you value greatly, such as a car gifted to you by your parents or a memento you bought for yourself during marriage without any financial input from your spouse, those assets will generally be protected during the property division process.
How Broward County Courts Define Property
Property typically includes income, assets, and liabilities of the parties:
- Income describes money paid for services as an employee or business owner. All income from a financial portfolio, rental property, annuities, or other investments should be discussed with your divorce attorney. Attempting to hide sources of income during the property division process could adversely affect your case.
- Assets include real estate, retirement accounts (pensions, 401(k), and IRA accounts), bank accounts, accrued personal days (sick days or vacation pay), intellectual property (copyrights, trademarks, and patents), businesses or business interests, tangible property (including jewelry, pets, guns, cars, and art), and stock options. You should openly and honestly disclose all assets you own, whether marital or separate, during the property division process. Hiding, tainting/destroying, or selling assets during the property division process could have significant ramifications for your case.
- A liability is something an individual owes another party. Typically, liabilities come in the form of debts. If a couple acquires liabilities while married, courts often require each party to shoulder some of the burden for those liabilities post-divorce.
What Is Nonmarital Property?
In Florida, assets and liabilities acquired prior to marriage are typically considered nonmarital property. Unless the party takes steps to change the value or title of property during the marriage, the following are usually classified as nonmarital assets:
- An asset or liability that the party brought into marriage that retains value
- An asset or liability acquired in exchange for a nonmarital asset
- An asset or liability acquired by a gift or non-interspousal inheritance
- Income received from nonmarital assets during the marriage, unless both use income as a marital asset
- An asset or liability excluded from marital property according to a valid written agreement, such as a prenuptial agreement
- A liability incurred when a party forges the other party’s name without written permission
Can Nonmarital Property Convert To Marital Property?
Florida law notes instances in which nonmarital property converts to marital property. For example, when nonmarital property changes title from one party’s name to both spouses’ names, it is converted to marital property. Conversion of nonmarital property also occurs when marital and nonmarital assets are combined (also called the “commingling” of assets). The act of commingling turns nonmarital assets into marital assets. Another type of transformation happens when the other spouse’s labor or financial contribution enhances the nonmarital asset value.
If one spouse owns a house and holds the title solely in his name throughout the marriage, the house remains a nonmarital asset. However, if the couple adds a recreation room to the house during the marriage, the joint home improvement project converts the house to a marital asset even if the other spouse never gets added to the title.
The above also applies to other kinds of assets. For example, if one party owns a business or investment portfolio, and their spouse contributes meaningfully to that asset post-marriage, those assets transform into marital assets. It is worth noting that the objective of courts – to divide property equitably – often means that if you own the lion’s share of an asset during your marriage, the court will likely award you the majority of that asset post-divorce to reflect your contribution.
The possibility of once-separate assets, such as businesses, investments, or property to become marital assets is a significant reason why so many individuals who own these assets opt to get a prenuptial agreement. A prenuptial agreement can protect your assets during the dissolution process and helps ensure the property division outcome is truly equitable for all parties involved.
What Is Marital Property?
In general, parties acquire marital property during their marriage with marital funds, resources, or labor.
For example, if one of the parties earns a professional degree during the marriage, the degree is not considered marital property. However, the professional practice developed by the spouse who earns the degree is regarded as a marital asset. The value of the professional practice may be factored into property division and in spousal support determinations.
The Importance Of A Divorce Attorney During Property Division
Property division in Florida is extremely complex. Frequently, courts ask a certified public accountant (CPA) who specializes in asset valuation to value assets during property division. An attorney who has experience handling property division cases can help you understand the process more thoroughly and protect your assets.