When Can a Florida Judge Order an Unequal Distribution of Marital Assets?
Florida courts follow an “equitable distribution” rule in divorce cases. This means that under normal circumstances, a judge is expected to equally divide any marital assets and liabilities equally between the parties. The judge can, however, make an “inequitable distribution”–i.e., give one spouse a greater share of property–after considering a list of factors provided for under Florida law.
When a judge makes an inequitable distribution without providing an adequate explanation, that can serve as grounds to reverse the final divorce order. A recent decision from the Florida Third District Court of Appeals, Diaz v. Diaz, helps to illustrate this point. In this case, a couple divorced after 48 years of marriage. The case was tried before a judge in 2018. As there was no court reporter present, there was no transcript of the proceedings.
The judge eventually issued a final judgment that essentially adopted the wife’s proposed distribution of marital assets. This distribution was inequitable. It essentially gave the former wife about $350,000 more in property than the former husband. As you might expect, the former husband appealed this ruling.
The Third District agreed the inequitable distribution was a problem. More precisely, the trial judge’s failure to cite to any of the “factors required” by Florida law was an issue. Given there was no trial transcript, the appeals court said it had no choice but to treat the inequitable distribution as “fundamentally erroneous on its face.”
The appeals court also rejected the trial judge’s reliance on the principle of “special equity” to justify awarding a greater share of property to the former wife. Special equity refers to a concept in Florida law that was once defined as the “vested interest which a spouse acquires because of contribution of funds, property, or services made over and above the performance of normal marital duties.” In this case, the trial judge determined the wife acquired “special equity” based on the former husband’s use of marital assets to support his extramarital affair.
But as the Third District noted, the Florida legislature abolished special equity in 2008. Again, the trial court needed to consider the factors for inequitable distribution provided for by current law. The judge’s failure to do so therefore required a new trial.
Have Questions Regarding Florida’s Equitable Distribution Laws? We Can Help
So what are the factors a court must consider before making an unequal distribution of marital property? Well, the intentional dissipation of assets–such as the husband in the case above spending money on his affair–is one of them. Here are some of the other common factors:
- the relative economic circumstances of the parties;
- how long the marriage lasted;
- whether either spouse interrupted their careers or education during the marriage;
- whether one spouse contributed to the education or career of the other spouse; and
- the need to keep a business “intact and free from any claim or interference” from the other spouse.
If you have additional questions about how Florida’s equitable distribution laws work and need to speak with a qualified Boca Raton divorce attorney, contact the offices of WiseLieberman, PLLC, at 561-488-7788, to schedule a consultation.