Florida Court Decides 1.5% Portion Not to Small to Consider in Equitable Distribution Case

In Latin, there is a phrase, “de minimis,” that essentially translates to “too minor to warrant consideration” or “so small that it can be disregarded.” This phrase comes up in legal matters sometimes, when an amount is so small that the court simply declines to consider it. Of course, a sum of money that might be insignificant to someone else might be extremely important to you. In a recent Orlando case involving a a wife’s portion of her husband’s pension, the Fifth District Court of Appeal threw out a trial court’s ruling that declined to award the wife anything from that pension. While the wife’s portion may have only been a tiny fraction of the total pension, that amount was not “de minimis” to her, in the court’s opinion, especially given that, over time, that amount would total several thousand dollars.

The couple in the case, M.B. and A.C., were married for a little more than three years when the husband filed for divorce. Eleven months into their short marriage, the husband retired from his job at the Yonkers School Board of Education, where he’d worked for 31 years. After the husband initiated the divorce proceeding, the trial court in Orlando dissolved the marriage and made a ruling on equitable distribution.

The trial court reasoned that the husband worked for the school board for slightly more than 1,600 weeks, 49 of which were while he was married to A.C.. Dividing 49 by 1,612 yielded a percentage of roughly 3%, which was the marital portion of the pension, with half of that representing the wife’s part. Since the husband’s monthly pension payment was $5,900 per month, that meant that the wife’s amount came to $89 per month.

The trial court, looking at that $89 amount in comparison to the $5,900 amount, declared the wife’s amount to be de minimis, and therefore it awarded nothing at all from the husband’s pension. The wife appealed, and she was successful. Her argument on appeal, with which the Fifth District agreed, was that, while the $89 sum might be de minimis to the husband, it was definitely not de minimis to the wife. As support for this, the wife pointed out that she made only $331 per month and that the extra $89 monthly would increase her income by 27%.

In a 2002 case, Locke v. Locke, another Florida appeals court made a similar ruling, stating that “a difference of several thousand dollars should not have been dismissed [as de minimis] without a more precise inquiry.” In Coleman’s case, even though each payment was $89, when analyzed across several years, the sum total was much more substantial. Over the span of 10 years, the marital portion of the husband’s pension would be more than $21,000, with the wife’s half totaling almost $11,000. Just as in the Locke case, this was a difference of several thousand dollars and was too much to be written off as de minimis.

Securing the full amount of property to which the law entitles you can sometimes be a prolonged process. Skilled and experienced counsel can help you ensure you get what the law says you should. The hardworking South Florida divorce attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. are here to provide you with the advice and advocacy you need to make certain that the distribution you get is one that you deserve. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Court Says Wife Had No Claim to South Florida Home that Lost Value During Couple’s Marriage, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Aug. 19, 2015

Dealing with Items One Spouse Sells During a Florida Divorce, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 13, 2015