Some divorce cases go forward with both sides proceeding amicably, respectfully, and ethically. Unfortunately, this is not the case in all situations. Sometimes, a spouse may intentionally engage in wrongdoing as part of the divorce process, including improper dissipation of certain marital assets. When that happens, the law has a process for protecting the other spouse. The key in these situations is offering the right kind of proof of intentional misconduct and making sure that the trial court issues the right kind of finding. A recent case that originated in Broward County illustrated this, as the 4th District Court of Appeal threw out an equitable distribution of a couple’s assets because the court failed to make the necessary findings about the wife’s intentional misconduct.
In the divorce case of J.M. (wife) and M.M. (husband), the husband accused the wife of intentional misconduct that resulted in the dissipation of marital assets. In divorce cases, generally speaking, trial courts should not include in the equitable distribution of the couple’s assets anything that was “diminished or dissipated” during the period of time while the divorce case was pending. There is one definite situation where that is not the case, however: when one spouse commits intentional acts of misconduct that caused the diminution. When that happens, it is appropriate to include those spent assets in the misbehaving spouse’s portion of the equitable distribution.
To do that, though, requires the trial judge to make certain precise rulings in the divorce decree. Specifically, the trial court must analyze whether, and decide that, the spending spouse “used marital funds for his or her own benefit and for a purpose unrelated to the marriage at a time when the marriage is undergoing an irreconcilable breakdown.” Merely wasting, squandering, or mismanaging assets in a way that the other spouse dislikes cannot trigger a finding of intentional misconduct. The type of misbehavior necessary to trigger such an equitable distribution has to be clear misconduct and clearly intentional.
After the trial court in this case issued a final judgment of dissolution and created an equitable distribution that took into account the wife’s dissipation of assets, the wife appealed. The 4th DCA reversed the equitable distribution part of the divorce judgment. The problem with the trial court’s order was that the judge never made an express finding that the wife engaged in intentional misdeeds that caused the diminution of marital assets. Without that finding, the way the trial court structured the equitable distribution could not survive.
The wife was still not “in the clear,” though. The appeals court did not determine that there was no basis for finding that the wife committed intentional misconduct; rather, it only concluded that the lower court failed to make the necessary express findings that the law requires in order to impose the equitable distribution that it created. The trial court was free, once the case was sent back to it, to issue a new order making such a finding and could do so without even holding more hearings or allowing any additional arguments.
When you are involved in a divorce, you have to be vigilant to protect your rights in a number of areas, both personally and financially. The hardworking South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. are here to offer you the advice and representation you need to ensure that your rights are protected and the resolution your receive is a fair one. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
Florida Court Decides 1.5% Portion Not to Small to Consider in Equitable Distribution Case, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, March 10, 2016
Using Marital Funds to Pay Down a Mortgage on a Non-marital Property and Its Impact on Your Florida Equitable Distribution, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Sept. 22, 2016