COVID-19 UPDATE: Sandy T. Fox, P.A. remains open remotely to serve our community and assist them with their family law needs. We can be reached via the contact form on the site, and meetings can be handled virtually through the Zoom teleconferencing app.

Articles Posted in Equitable Distribution

Three decades ago, there was a popular TV comedy featuring four senior women sharing a home here in sunny South Florida. The eldest occasionally tried to impart her “wisdom” by telling stories from her youth, urging her listeners to “picture it,” and then describing the setting. So, in that tradition… picture it: you’re in a courtroom in your divorce case –- on your own — facing the judge and your spouse and your spouse’s lawyer. Both you and the other side have made motions asking the judge to do certain things. While you’re in the hearing, the judge suggests to your spouse’s attorney what motions that lawyer should file. The judge also makes a suggestion that that attorney not file another motion that the lawyer was contemplating.

That would be pretty intimidating, would it not? You’re there on your own and your spouse has counsel but it is your spouse’s side that the judge seems to be helping out. Would you think that you have any recourse? The reality is that you do have options in a circumstance like that. One option to which you should definitely avail yourself is retaining legal counsel. Having a skilled South Florida family law attorney on your side can help level the playing field.

This scenario allegedly happened in a real-life case recently. A wife and a husband were in court in their divorce case disputing the wife’s alleged improper sale of certain assets contained in storage units. The husband had a lawyer; the wife didn’t. The judge in the case allegedly suggested that the husband’s lawyer file a motion to show cause and that, as part of that request, the judge “would be happy” to haul into court the third party to whom the wife allegedly sold the assets. The judge later allegedly offered an opinion that the husband’s lawyer should avoid filing a different motion the lawyer was considering.

Generally, the law gives judges significant discretion when it comes to the orders they hand down in family law cases, especially when it comes to division of assets and debts. The court can demand that a particular spouse pay a particular debt and can impose requirements regarding how to pay it, such as demanding that the marital home be sold–at least in most circumstances. However, Florida constitutional law creates some very strong protections for homestead property, and sometimes the homestead exemption protection can have an impact on a family law case. To make sure you’re not forced into selling your home when you don’t have to, be sure to retain an experienced Florida family law attorney.

As an example of a conflict between debt assignment in a divorce and the homestead exemption, there’s the recent case of S.A.S. and J.S. The pair were going through divorce in Broward County, and their divorce included issues that required the retention of a guardian ad litem. Guardians ad litem often become involved in divorce cases involving minor children if the case is especially litigious or there has been an allegation of child abuse or neglect.

In a family law case, a guardian ad litem is often a local attorney and is entitled to payment of fees for the service she provides. Many times, the guardian ad litem may be paid by the hour. The guardian ad litem’s fees are owed by the litigants, which means that this is one more marital expense that the court must decide who pays.

Going through the divorce process can be, and often is, a difficult time, both emotionally and, in many situations, financially. Divorcing spouses may be forced to deplete financial accounts or sell assets to pay for necessary things like living expenses and legal fees. When you do, the expenditure of those assets may impact the outcome of your case with regard to equitable distribution. In any equitable distribution outcome, your goals certainly include not being penalized for depleting assets for legitimate reasons. To make sure you get a genuinely fair equitable distribution, make certain you have the services of an experienced South Florida family law attorney on your side.

For an illustration of the rules regarding the dissipation of marital assets, there’s the very recent case of T.M. and H.M. from Palm Beach County. Each spouse petitioned for divorce in 2016 after nearly 25 years of marriage. The couple’s divorce case covered several important issues, including equitable distribution and child support. After the trial was over, the wife appealed. In her appeal, she objected to several decisions the trial court made regarding equitable distribution as well as the calculation of her income for child support calculation purposes.

The outcome of the appellate argument regarding the equitable distribution of the couple’s marital assets was particularly useful. In T.M. and H.M.’s case, the trial judge awarded the wife her checking account and her savings account. The documents in the divorce case identified the value of the savings account as $13,275 and the value of the checking account as $13,212.

When you go through a divorce, there are several steps that you must complete. The equitable distribution of marital assets is one of them. Of course, most people’s marital estates are not an unchangeable thing but instead experience change every time the couple buys or sells something or every time an asset fluctuates in value. So how do you determine when to analyze the marital estate in order to complete an equitable distribution? For answers to these types of questions, as well as what they mean for you and your divorce, you should act promptly to consult a knowledgeable Florida equitable distribution attorney.

A recent case from central Florida shone a light on this issue. The spouses, Orlando and Diana, divorced after 23 years of marriage. During the marriage, the couple owned multiple pieces of real estate. Orlando and Diana, as Colombians, observed the Colombian tradition of parents providing for their children and, motivated by that, deeded four of the properties they owned to their sons. After these transfers, they still had left an apartment in Colombia, a condo in Naples, and a house in Marco Island.

After the trial’s conclusion, the judge issued a decision on equitable distribution, giving the husband the house in Marco Island plus two of the properties that the couple had previously deeded to the sons. The wife received the apartment in Colombia, the condo in Naples, and a vacant lot that the couple had deeded to their sons. The court ordered the fourth property that had been deeded to the children sold.

When a couple divorces, there are several things they must work through in order to reach a settlement agreement, including the division of their property. Sometimes, parties may make certain payments contingent on other financial events, like the sale of the marital home. Thus, what happens if the house is put up for sale, but no one buys it? Issues like this highlight just how important it is to negotiate thoroughly and draft carefully any marital settlement agreement that you sign. When it comes to marital settlement agreements, it pays to have an experienced Florida property division attorney on your side.

A recent case involving this type of settlement agreement dispute involved the divorce of Jonathan and Angela. The couple worked out a marital settlement agreement in their divorce case that stated that they agreed to sell their marital home. They later amended the agreement to dictate that the home had a fair market value of $725,000 and an outstanding mortgage of $328,000. They agreed that each spouse was entitled to 50% of the equity in the home, meaning that each spouse was entitled to $198,500.

To accomplish this distribution, the agreement required the wife to sign over her one-half interest in the home to the husband. The husband agreed to pay the wife $80,000 within 10 days and the remaining $118,500 when the sale of the home closed.

In many divorce cases, one of the key areas to resolve is equitable distribution. In some marriages, the couple may have a mixture of marital assets, non-marital assets, and maybe non-marital assets that were improved or acquired in part by using marital funds. Reaching a conclusion on equitable distribution can be very complex and is yet another example of where the experience of knowledgeable Florida divorce attorneys can help. One Tampa-area case involved just such a complication when the couple had used marital funds to pay the mortgage on a non-marital asset.

In this case, the wife, Bridgett, owned one-half of a duplex. That asset was the wife’s non-marital property. During the marriage, the couple paid $350 of marital funds toward the duplex’s mortgage from November 2004 until the wife’s half of the duplex was destroyed by fire in November 2006.

Sometime later, Bridgett and her husband, Ricky, divorced. During the divorce hearing, the husband sought credit for the duplex mortgage payments in calculating the couple’s equitable distribution. The trial judge agreed with the husband and gave him dollar-for-dollar credit for the full amount of the 24 mortgage payments made on the duplex during the marriage.

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.

Continue reading ›

In a divorce case in which equitable distribution is an issue, there are many details that can substantially alter the result in your case. For example, the decision regarding which date to use for assessing the value of an asset can make thousands of dollars of difference, as was demonstrated in a recent First District Court of Appeal case. In that dispute, the First DCA ruled that a husband shouldn’t be punished in the equitable distribution process for depleting thousands of dollars of assets by paying for his living expenses and the expenses associated with the marital home.

Continue reading ›

A pair of errors by a trial court allowed a husband to win his appeal before the Second District Court of Appeal recently. The lower court’s failure to include in its equitable distribution a loan taken out for the purpose of funding the couple’s child’s education was erroneous, as was basing the husband’s obligation on his gross, rather than net, income.

Continue reading ›

When going through a divorce, some people desire to resolve the case as quickly as possible. Sometimes, though, it may be necessary, in order to obtain a truly fair and just outcome, to ask the court to put off ruling in your case. One recent case from southwestern Florida highlights a set of circumstances in which a wife needed additional time to obtain evidence about her husband’s business, and the denial of her continuance request created an injustice for her that required the Second District Court of Appeal to reverse the ruling.

Continue reading ›