“Equitable Distribution” is the general legal term given to the various rules and concepts which govern the division of a family’s assets and liabilities or “net worth” during a divorce. The equitable distribution analysis begins with the proposition that a families net worth should be equally divided between the divorcing spouses. However, this is only an initial presumption. Frequently, the end result is not an equal division. Some assets and liabilities may be awarded or assigned solely to one spouse and not the other. These items are usually referred to as “non-marital” assets and “non-marital” liabilities.
Florida Statute chapter 61 is the equitable distribution statute. Florida case law further develops and refines this statutory law. An in-depth analysis of the law of equitable distribution is well beyond the scope of this writing, is often very fact intensive, and is often the subject of intense courtroom and mediation debate. Despite this, the general legal concept requires that a judge separate marital assets and liabilities from non-marital assets and liabilities. The value of marital assets and liabilities is then usually equally divided. Non-marital assets and liabilities are usually awarded to the spouse who has a special interest or connection in or to the asset or liability.
Each case involves a different analysis. Equitable Distribution for a two year marriage may be very different than for a 20 year marriage. The existence of solely owned premarital assets or liabilities, and inheritances may also make a big difference in the equitable distribution analysis.
As a very general statement, non-marital assets and liabilities typically, but not always, fall under one of two general fact patterns as follows: 1) The item was owned or owed by only one spouse prior to the marriage and was never given or assigned to the second spouse or combined with other “marital” items; and 2) the item was gifted to or inherited to only one spouse and was never given or assigned to the second spouse or commingled with other “marital” items.
The analysis does not always end here. Each spouse then retains the right to argue that they should be entitled to more than one half of the marital net worth under the general concept that the facts of the case warrant an unequal division of marital net worth. These arguments are typically fact specific equity based arguments which are beyond the scope of this article.
The best way to receive the most specific and accurate answers to your equitable distribution questions is to seek professional legal advice from an attorney that is well versed in Florida family law. Any such case analysis should also cover other potentially related divorce issues such as alimony, child support, time sharing with children, and attorney’s fees. Often these issues are not mutually exclusive and a given outcome for one issue affects the outcome of the others.
- David Anton, Esq. of the Anton Legal Group has been conducting no-nonsense, affordable case evaluations, including equitable distribution evaluations, for nearly 30 years here in the Tampa Bay area. If you have questions, we have the information and advice you need.
If you would like to discuss the issue of Equitable Distribution, call the Anton Legal Group today at (813) 443-5249 to discuss your case.