Some spouses like to joke with their partners by reciting the well-worn humorous phrase, “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is ours.” Florida law allows spouses to have certain assets that belong to that spouse alone. However, the law creates certain triggers that, if they occur, convert a non-marital asset into a marital one. That’s what happened to one Polk County woman, whose $78,000 in cash gifts from her mother were, according to the 2d District Court of Appeal, marital because she commingled that cash in an account that also contained marital funds.
Roberta Dravis’ mother was very generous toward her daughter. Every Christmas and birthday, the mother gave her gifts of cash. Dravis deposited these gifts in an account at CenterState Bank that she and her husband, Dean Dravis, jointly owned. By the time the couple separated, the total sum of the mother’s gifts to her daughter amounted to $78,000.
The couple made other deposits into that account as well. The account had a total balance of $121,196 at the time of the separation. The trial court determined that the entire $121,196 account balance represented a marital asset. The wife appealed this conclusion, arguing that the Florida Statutes recognized gifts like the cash ones the mother made as non-marital assets that were not subject to equitable distribution. The account in question, the wife maintained, was designed to fund her retirement and was supposed to have been hers alone, not jointly owned. She also contended that the account’s funds were never used to pay marital expenses.
The argument did not succeed. The wife was correct that Section 61.075(6)(b)(2) includes, within the list of assets that are non-marital, both inheritances and non-interspousal gifts. A gift of cash from a parent to a child qualifies as a non-interspousal gift. However, depending on how the recipient handles the assets received, these non-marital assets can become marital ones.
So, was it the erroneous joint ownership of the account that doomed the wife’s case? No. Even if the account had been titled in her name alone the entire time, the gifts from her mother still would have been marital assets. The problem was how she handled the money. The CenterState account had another $43,196 in it from sources other than the mother’s gifts. The wife did not dispute that at least a portion of that additional $43,196 represented marital assets.
This meant that the wife had commingled her non-marital gifts with marital assets. When a spouse commingles non-marital assets with marital ones, that act converts the non-marital asset into a marital one. This rule is especially steadfast when the asset in question is money, since money “is fungible, and once commingled it loses its separate character.”
Additionally, whether or not certain assets were, or were not, ever used to pay marital expenses does not make any difference under Florida law in terms of deciding whether the asset is marital or non-marital. As soon as the wife commingled her non-marital cash gifts with marital funds in the CenterState account, the non-marital assets become marital.
While you probably do not like to think about such things, if you have assets that you wish to ensure remain yours, come what may in your marriage, it is important to make certain you are following the law and not allowing the handling of your separate assets to convert those assets into marital ones. For skilled and helpful counsel, contact the South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our highly knowledgeable attorneys can help you make sure that you are doing everything you need to do to protect your assets.
Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your 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’s Work Improving Husband’s Office Building Converts Property to a Marital Asset, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 5, 2013