In divorce cases in which issues related to minor children do not play a role, the biggest issue facing many spouses is that of the division of assets. For many of those couples, the largest single asset with which they must deal is the marital home. Frequently, one spouse will receive the marital home, but that distribution will require the recipient spouse to make a cash payment (or payments) to the other spouse in order to achieve a truly equitable distribution. In a recent case involving a Palm Beach County couple, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled on what the law demands in terms of signing a deed on the house, the submission of an equalizing payment, and the timing of each.
A divorcing couple was facing the scenario outlined above: one spouse gets the marital home, while the other spouse gets an equalizing payment as part of the equitable distribution. In this case, the wife got the house, and the court ordered the wife to pay the husband $25,162. The court ordered the husband to execute a deed signing over his rights to the home “within three (3) days of presentment.” The court gave the wife 90 days to make the equalizing payment.
The husband appealed this aspect of the trial judge’s ruling. By imposing each spouse’s obligations and the timing of the respective deadlines for completion, as the court did, the order effectively deprived the husband of his interest in the home, he argued. The husband based this argument of deprived interest upon a case that the Second DCA decided last year. In that case, a trial court awarded the marital home to the husband but ordered him to make a $25,000 equalizing payment. The wife had 30 days to sign a deed relinquishing her rights to the home. The husband, meanwhile, had in excess of 20 years to pay his equalizing payment obligation, since the trial judge required him only to pay $100 a month until the equalizing payment obligation was satisfied.
In that case, the appeals court overturned the trial court’s order. Giving the husband more than 20 years to pay the full amount of the equalizing payment was “patently unreasonable,” the court decided. In this case, however, the deadline for making the equalizing payment was three months, rather than 250 months, meaning that it was “not so attenuated that it effectively deprives the husband of his interest in the property.” Thus, in that regard, the equitable distribution plan was permissible under the law.
There was, however, another problem. The plan called for the wife to pay the husband more than $25,000 within 90 days, but there was no proof on the record that the wife had the financial means to fulfill this obligation. The wife had testified that she would take out a home equity loan on the house, if necessary, to make the payment on time, but there was no evidence that the wife could qualify for such a loan in the amount needed. If the wife failed to make the payment on time, the husband would be deprived of his interest in the home.
The key to making such an equitable distribution plan acceptable under the law was to add conditions related to the delivery of the deed to the wife, ensuring that the wife would not receive the deed the husband signed until such time as she made her equalizing payment.
When it comes to equitable distribution, you need experienced counsel fighting for you to ensure that the distribution you receive is truly equitable. The hardworking and experienced South Florida equitable distribution attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have spent many years representing clients and helping to work out successful resolutions to equitable distribution and other family law issues. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
Transferring Homes into Trusts and the Impact on Your Florida Divorce and Equitable Distribution, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 20, 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, 2015