Equitable Distribution of Assets and Debts
Another issue within numerous divorce proceedings is how property and debt should be distributed between both parties. In the State of Florida, marital property is divided based on the approach of equitable distribution. This is significantly less clear cut than in some states that divide property 50/50. In Florida, marital property division starts with an assumption that assets and debts should be divided equally between both parties unless there is a justification for a distribution that is unequal. Florida Law has named the following as factors in the distribution of marital assets and liabilities:
- The length of the marriage.
- The economic circumstances of the parties.
- The contribution to the marriage by each spouse, including contributions to the care and education of the children and services as homemaker.
- Any interruption of personal careers or educational opportunities of either party.
- The contribution of one spouse to the personal career or educational opportunity of the other spouse.
- The desirability of retaining any asset, including an interest in a business, corporation, or professional practice, intact and free from any claim or interference by the other party.
- The contribution of each spouse to the enhancement, acquisition, and production of income or the improvement of, or the incurring of liabilities to, both the marital assets and the non-marital assets of the parties.
- The desirability of retaining the marital home as a residence for any dependent child of the marriage, or any other party, when it would be equitable to do so, it is in the best interest of the child or that party, and it is financially possible for the parties to maintain the residence until the child is emancipated or until exclusive possession is otherwise terminated by a court of competent jurisdiction.
- The intentional dissipation, waste, depletion, or destruction of marital assets after the filing of the petition or within 2 years prior to the filing of the petition.
- Any other factors necessary to do equity and justice between the parties.
The first step in the distribution of property is to decide which assets and debts are marital and which are non-marital.
Marital assets are any assets gained throughout the marriage and marital debts are any debts incurred throughout the marriage. These may include cars, houses, stocks, pensions, bonds, retirement plans, annuities and businesses.
Non-Marital refers to any assets and debts gained or incurred prior to the marriage. This may include property owned before the marriage, any gifts given to one spouse during the marriage, or any inheritances held by one spouse. Non-marital assets become marital if they are comingled with marital assets. For example, if one party owns a home before the marriage and after the marriage the family lives in that home, the value of the home or part of the value of the home can become marital.
Figuring out which property is marital and non-marital can be a reason for disagreement between parties. One spouse can try to hide money and assets. Also, issues of comingling of funds may emerge. Comingling is when non-marital funds have been mixed together with marital funds during the course of the marriage. Often this may require the aid of a forensic accountant. It is important to have a skilled and knowledgeable lawyer to ensure your property rights.
Once the marital assets and debts are determined they are each valued by the Court and divided equally between the parties, unless there is a reason enumerated by statute for an unequal distribution.