Equitable Distribution of Marital Assets and Liabilities
Pursuant to Fla. Stat. §61.075(1), the Court must divide “all marital assets and liabilities” between the parties to a divorce proceeding. In doing so, the Court begins with the premise that the marital estate should be divided between the parties in equal shares. If you have questions about property division, the Miami divorce lawyers at Hoffman & Hoffman, P.A. can assist you.
Marital Assets and Liabilities
The definition of “marital assets and liabilities” is set forth in Fla. Stat. §61.075(6)(a)(1), which provides that “marital assets and liabilities” include:
- Assets acquired and liabilities incurred during the marriage, individually by either spouse or jointly by them;
- The enhancement in value and appreciation of nonmarital assets resulting from the efforts of either party and/or the contribution or expenditure of marital funds;
- Interspousal gifts made during the marriage; and
- All vested and nonvested benefits that accrued during the marriage.
Pursuant to this definition, an automobile that is solely titled in the name of one spouse would be a marital asset so long as the automobile was purchased while the parties were married. Similarly, the debt that is incurred to purchase that automobile, even if it is solely in the name of one party, would constitute a marital debt provided that the debt was incurred during the marriage.
In divorce proceedings, it is not uncommon for parties to separate several months, or even years, prior to filing for divorce, which begs the question: are marital assets and liabilities valued on the date of separation?
Florida Statute § 61.075(7) provides that the date for determining the value of marital assets and liabilities is the date or dates that the court determines are just and equitable under the circumstances. Accordingly, different assets may be valued on different dates, which can become critical when an asset substantially appreciates after the parties separate.
For example, certain assets, such as pensions and retirement benefits, generally appreciate over time. A spouse’s pension could therefore be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars more on the date that a Petition for Dissolution of marriage is filed than it was on the date that the parties separated. In this situation, it is arguably “just and equitable” to use the date of separation as the valuation date for the pension rather than the date of filing the Petition.
Case law from the Third District Court of Appeal (which is controlling in Miami-Dade County) seemingly supports this analysis. For example, Norwood v. Anapol-Norwood, 931 So. 2d 951, 953 (Fla. 3d DCA 2006), provides that the date of separation shall be used to value an asset “where there is an increase in the value of a marital asset due solely to the efforts of the owner spouse.” Based on this case, employment and/or retirement benefits, which would not have increased in value but for one spouse’s continued employment, should be valued as of the date of the parties’ separation. Similarly, the date of separation should arguably be used for valuing the parties’ Marital Home where one spouse remains in the Marital Home after the parties separate, and the value of the Marital Home thereafter appreciates substantially due solely to the efforts and contributions of the spouse that remained in the Marital Home.
Justification for Unequal Distribution
Once a determination as to the value of each marital asset and liability has been made, the Court will divide the assets and liabilities between the parties in equal shares unless there is justification for an unequal distribution of the marital estate based on all “relevant factors”, including:
- The contribution to the marriage by each spouse, including each spouse’s contribution to the care and education of the children and/or each spouse’s services as homemaker.
- The economic circumstances of the parties.
- The duration of the marriage.
- The interruption of a spouse’s education or career.
- 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 acquisition, enhancement, or improvement of marital assets, and each spouse’s contribution to liabilities incurred during the marriage.
- The desirability of retaining the marital home as a residence for any dependent child of the marriage.
- The intentional dissipation, waste, depletion, or destruction of marital assets by one spouse after the filing of a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or within 2 years prior to the filing of a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.
- Any other factors necessary to do equity and justice between the parties.
Contact our Miami divorce lawyers today to schedule a consultation if you have property division questions.