Divorce can bring out many complicated issues, particularly when it comes to money. On the one hand, a nefarious spouse may try to deplete assets before the case is finalized. On the other hand, spouses continue to have bills and financial obligations that often require dissipating marital assets to pay. Regardless of what a spouse’s true motives may have been, the dissipation of marital assets should only be included in an equitable distribution of assets if the trial court specifically finds that the dissipating spouse engaged in intentional misconduct, the 4th District Court of Appeal recently ruled.
Bonnie Jean Platt filed for a divorce from her husband, Minor J. Platt, Jr. While the case was pending, the wife allegedly took several guns and pieces of jewelry and sold them. After the sales, the court heard evidence regarding the value of the sold items, and it concluded that the guns were worth $6,500 and the jewelry had a value of $6,200. Having made this determination, the trial court then included that $12,700 as an amount that the wife received in calculating the couple’s equitable distribution.
The wife appealed, and she was successful. The appeals court explained that there are only limited circumstances when the sale or expenditure of assets during the pendency of a divorce case should factor into a couple’s equitable distribution. In order to include such distributions or depletions in an equitable distribution, the court must receive sufficient evidence that the sale or expenditure was intentional. The court must then make a specific finding on the record that the depletion was the result of that spouse’s intentional misconduct.
The Platt court pointed to a similar 2013 case, Zvida v. Zvida, in which the appeals court overturned a trial court’s equitable distribution ruling. The trial court in the Zvidas’ case had included a $117,000 bank account in the husband’s equitable distribution, even though the account had been depleted down to $3,000. Since the trial court never made a finding of intentional misconduct by the husband, it was improper to include the extra $114,000 in dissipated funds in the equitable distribution.
In these cases, the type of intentional misconduct that can trigger inclusion in an equitable distribution involves one spouse using marital assets for that spouse’s own individual benefit and “for a purpose unrelated to the marriage.” In the Platts’ case, no evidence of intentional misconduct on the wife’s part existed. To the contrary, both sides agreed that the wife used the proceeds of the sales to pay for reasonable living expenses related to debts that the couple had accumulated during the marriage and the course of the divorce litigation.
There are many things that should factor into an equitable distribution of assets in a divorce, but there are other factors that should not affect this calculation. To make sure that the equitable distribution you receive is genuinely fair and compliant with the law, talk to the South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our experienced attorneys have assisted many clients with achieving just outcomes when it comes to equitable distribution.
Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule a confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
How to (Not) Keep A Separate Property Separate for Purposes of Equitable Distribution, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 7, 2014
Wife Must Share Responsibility for Husband’s Eve-of-Divorce $13K Credit Card Tab, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, March 5, 2014