Wife’s Work Improving Husband’s Office Building Converts Property to a Marital Asset

When a couple divorces, one of the integral elements of property division is separating marital assets from non-marital ones. A recent 4th District Court of Appeal ruling highlights that an asset’s origin at the time the couple marries is not the only criterion for ascertaining its classification. In the Jordan case, the wife’s work improving an asset, and the couple’s use of the asset’s proceeds for marital benefits, converted the asset from non-marital to marital.

A chiropractor and his wife married in 1992. The husband conducted his practice in an office building he owned separately, as his parents had deeded it to him before he married. However, while the couple was married, the wife coordinated and performed several significant renovations and improvements to the building. Also during the marriage, the husband transferred title of the building to a corporate entity he created. The couple eventually sold the building, purchasing and then selling a salon. Over the years, the couple used funds from the corporation to pay their household and living expenses.

The couple filed for divorce in 2011. The trial court adopted the wife’s proposed judgment, and the husband appealed. On the matter of the office building and corporation assets, the court determined that the trial court correctly found it to be a marital asset. The husband’s professional building clearly was a non-marital asset when the couple had married. However, the wife’s work on the building was sufficient to convert it from a non-marital asset to a marital one. The wife was “instrumental” in the completion of “vast improvements …, which included replacing walls, installing new flooring, adding columns and a flag pole to the front, modifying lighting and other electrical work, adding an additional parking lot, replacing the roof, and putting in new doors and windows,” the court pointed out. The amount of effort the wife expended on the office building went far beyond mere maintenance, but rather, provided substantial enhancement in the asset’s value.

The wife’s work was not the only evidence in her favor. Because the couple used the sale of the building for the purchase of a business and for the benefit of the family, and because they used the proceeds of both the office building transaction and the salon transaction to pay marital household expenses, the asset’s treatment was sufficient to convert it to a marital asset. Florida courts generally are in agreement that commingling, or using a non-marital asset for the benefit of the marriage, may convert a non-marital asset to a marital one. That is what happened here.

Determining whether an asset is marital or non-marital is one of the keys to creating an equitable distribution in compliance with Florida law. Even if an asset was your spouse’s non-marital property when you married, you may have contributed enough to the improvement of that asset, or you and your spouse may have commingled that asset’s funds, to the point that it has become a marital asset, making you entitled to a distribution of that asset.

To learn more about equitable distribution and your rights in divorce, reach out to the South Florida family law attorneys of Sandy T. Fox, P.A. They have years of assisting Fort Lauderdale and Miami-Dade individuals in working with their spouses to obtain a fair and legally compliant settlement, and to advocate for an equitable result when a mutually agreeable settlement cannot be reached. Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

401(k) Loan Used During Marriage Must Be Equitably Divided in Property Distribution, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Oct. 11, 2013
The Economic Demographics of Divorce, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 23, 2013