Many married people, during their wedding, recite vows in which they promise to remain together “for better or for worse.” Stay married long enough and you’ll likely encounter some of each. If you were hurt in an auto accident while you were married, that might be an example of the latter. Getting a monetary judgment or settlement award based on that accident might qualify as the former. If you have received an award of money during your marriage such as a personal injury settlement, that can be a complicating issue in your divorce. To get the reliable answers you need to potentially complex divorce issues like this and others, be sure you are getting your information and advice from an experienced South Florida family law attorney.
Martin and Mary were a couple who got divorced in Hillsborough County after nearly three decades of marriage. Two years before the couple separated, the husband was injured in a car crash. The couple sued and eventually received $28,000 in a settlement of the case.
In the divorce judgment, the trial judge declared the settlement funds to be a non-marital asset belonging to the husband. The wife contested that ruling successfully in an appeal.
Florida law follows something called the “analytical approach” when it comes to deciding whether a personal injury award obtained during a marriage was a marital or non-marital asset. This technique requires the court to assess the “purpose” of the award to decide if it was marital, non-marital, or a combination of both.
Wages that you earn during a marriage are generally a marital asset, so any money you receive that compensates you for lost wages generally is going to be a marital asset. Additionally, if you used marital funds to pay your accident-related medical bills and later receive an award for those medical expenses, then that medical expense award also is a marital asset.
On the other hand, all pain and suffering damages are the non-marital property of the spouse who was hurt in the crash. Similarly, an award for loss of consortium would be the separate property of the non-injured spouse.
Understanding the Importance of Legal Presumptions in Your Divorce Case
In Florida, the law creates a presumption that funds like a personal injury award or settlement are marital assets unless a spouse proves otherwise. So, if you have a $2 million damages award that includes $400,000 in lost wages, $200,000 in medical expenses, and $1.4 million in pain and suffering, it is vitally important that you prove what the nature of that damages award was. If you don’t, the presumption controls and that $2 million could be declared to be 100% marital, instead of 30% marital and 70% your non-marital asset.
This can be particularly challenging if your case was resolved with a settlement as opposed to a damages award. A damages award generally is going to delineate clearly the amount you received for each category, like medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. A settlement, on the other hand, often won’t. A settlement frequently involves you agreeing to drop your case in exchange for a single sum of money that is not split up into categories like “lost wages,” “medical expenses,” or “pain and suffering.”
In this scenario, it is more important than ever to ensure you have the evidence necessary to support your position that the award was a non-marital asset. Otherwise, the presumption may force the judge to declare all of that money to be marital and subject to equitable distribution.
Chances are your marriage came with some good and some bad, and getting the fair outcome you deserve from your divorce means parsing through all of that based on what the laws of Florida say. To make sure you are getting what you should from your equitable distribution, rely on the knowledgeable South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Whether the assets you and your spouse have are typical ones, uncommon ones, or a mixture of both, we can help you get to the just result you deserve. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation today