Sometimes “happily ever after” doesn’t last forever; and in this unfortunate instance, one of the most intimidating and confusing aspects of the divorce proceedings can be the division of your marital property. As most married couples usually intermingle their assets and make purchases together, the lines of true ownership become complicated. Since all property purchased or obtained by a married couple is collectively referred to as marital property, dividing the possessions and assets you have accumulated over your marriage (particularly dividing them in a manner that both parties believe is “fair”) is sometimes difficult and stressful.
So given the marital property laws in Florida, how you can properly prepare yourself for the road ahead?
Marital Property vs. Non-Marital Property
The first thing you will want to do, after seeking professional legal counsel, is to familiarize yourself with the legal differences between Marital Property and Non-marital Property in The State of Florida.
Marital Property may include everything you and your spouse have acquired with marital funds, both separately and together, throughout the course of the marriage. Also, under Florida law, Marital Property may include retirement funds, pensions, profit-sharing accounts, annuities, deferred compensation, and insurance plans and programs.
Non-marital (Separate) Property
Property is non-marital, or separate, if a spouse had obtained individual ownership of said property prior to the marriage, acquired it during marriage as a gift (not including gifts from the other spouse), or by inheritance and maintained it as separate property throughout the marriage. Examples of Non-marital (Separate) Property may include assets and/or debts that the spouses have defined, via a valid written agreement, as separate property, income from separate property (except in cases where the spouses have treated the income as marital property), or any items purchased with, or exchanged for a spouse’s separate property.
Assessing Value & Dividing the Marital Property
After determining which property is marital property, the couple, or the court, will assign a monetary value to each item. Couples who need help determining values can hire professional appraisers. Some financial assets, such as retirement accounts can be very difficult to evaluate and may require the assistance of a financial professional, such as a CPA or an actuary.
Florida law requires an equitable, or fair, division of property between spouses. Equitable usually means equal; however, a judge may believe that a precisely equal division would be inherently unfair. A judge has the discretion to divide the property in a different proportion after considering all relevant factors, such as:
- Length of the marriage
- Each individual spouse’s economic circumstances
- Each spouse’s contributions to the marriage, including contributions as a homemaker or parent
- Either spouse’s contribution to the career or educational opportunities of the other spouse
- Each spouse’s active contribution to improving marital or non-marital assets
- Liabilities incurred by either spouse, whether affecting martial or non-marital assets
Marital and Non-marital (Separate) Property can become mixed together, or commingled. Some couples may combine their separate assets intentionally, while others may do so unintentionally. If the spouses cannot decide what belongs to whom, the judge will have to decide whether any or all of the commingled property was a “gift to the marriage” or whether the original owner should be reimbursed, in whole or in part.
When Help is Needed
Situations such as these can become very complicated, very quickly; and if you don’t have adequate representation, you could lose more than just a spouse when the divorce proceedings conclude. Your best bet to protect yourself, your children (if applicable) and your assets, is to seek the assistance of an experienced and professional family law attorney.
For professional and knowledgeable assistance with any legal questions you may have about the division of Marital and Non-marital Property, please contact our attorneys Chris Lombardo or Ken Mundy with Woodward, Pires & Lombardo, P.A. at (239) 649-6555 or visit www.wpl-legal.com for more information.