Complex property distribution involves high net worth individuals with assets that are not part of a typical divorce. When spouses cannot agree on how to split these assets, the Florida family courts must make a decision. Building the best case possible requires aggressive, knowledgeable representation as well as consultation with experts from disciplines outside of the law. Orlando Family Team understands the unique challenges inherent to these types of divorce, and we help clients protect what they have worked so hard to build.
How Does Florida Divide Marital Property?
Florida uses what is known as equitable distribution in all cases involving marital property. The first step for the court is to determine which assets and debts are separate (non-marital) and to set those aside. Separate property and liabilities are not subject to equitable distribution. Only marital property and debt – that which is earned or acquired during the marriage – can be equitably divided.
This step is an important one because many spouses want to keep certain properties out of the equitable distribution process. Conversely, there are often times in which a spouse wants debt to be considered marital so that responsibility for it will be shared with the other party. This step should not be overlooked, and your attorney should fully evaluate the nature of all property and make sure it is correctly categorized.
Once the court determines which assets and debts are marital, it must assign a value to each and then distribute them. Bear in mind that equitable does not necessarily mean equal or 50/50. The court will divide up assets and debts based on what it determines to be fair. This requires consideration of a number of statutory factors, including:
- Contribution to the marriage by each spouse, including as a homemaker
- Economic circumstances of the parties
- Duration of the marriage
- Interruption of the careers or educational opportunities of either party
- Contribution of one spouse to the personal career or educational opportunity of the other
- Desirability of retaining any asset, free from any claim or interference by the other party
- Contribution of each spouse to both marital assets and non-marital assets of the parties
- Desirability of retaining the marital home as a residence for any dependent child, and whether it is in the child’s best interests to do so
- Intentional waste or destruction of marital assets
Can Non-Marital Assets Ever Be Subject To Equitable Distribution?
If you came into the marriage with substantial assets, you want to ensure the court does not classify them as marital. The problem is that a portion of these assets can be subject to equitable distribution, to some degree, when they increase in value as a result of the other spouse’s contributions. This occurs when the other spouse who did not bring the assets into the marriage engages in efforts to maintain, improve, invest, or otherwise enhance the value of that separate property. The use of marital funds to accomplish this may subject some part of the property to distribution between the spouses.
Commingling also presents a challenge. Commingling occurs when marital funds are used to make payments on nonmarital assets, like payment of a mortgage on property owned before the marriage. It can also occur when marital funds are deposited into a bank account that pre-existed the marriage, or when nonmarital funds are deposited into a joint account. The court may consider the act of co-mingling to signal an intent to share nonmarital assets with the other spouse, rendering it eligible for equitable distribution.
What Are Some Assets That May Be Considered Complex?
Complex assets require a higher degree of due diligence to ensure they are properly valued and distributed. Some of those assets are:
- Extensive real estate holdings, including vacation homes, timeshares, and properties in other states
- Ownership interest in a family business
- Professional practices (e.g. legal or medical)
- Pension and retirement benefits
- Stock portfolios and other investments
- Intellectual property
- Estates and trusts
- Foreign investments and holdings
- Boats, artwork, and other valuable collectibles
- Hidden assets
Significant debts and other liabilities may also be considered complex.
How Can A Complex Property Distribution Attorney Help Me?
One of the most important things your family law attorney will do is conduct what is known as discovery. This is the process by which critical information is learned by both sides in a complex property distribution case. The purpose of discovery is to learn the extent of both parties’ assets and debts, including those that may be hidden. Discovery can also be used to find out what sort of arguments the opposing spouse may try to use to claim a larger share of the marital estate.
Some of the common discovery tools used in complex property distribution cases are:
- Interrogatories: detailed questions which the opposing party must answer under oath
- Depositions: these are formal, out-of-court proceedings by which a deposed party is asked to answer questions and give testimony
- Subpoenas: these are commands for someone to appear in court and give testimony, or to appear at a deposition
- Requests for production of documents: used to obtain relevant written records in your spouse’s possession or in the possession of another party
Orlando Family Team also knows that complex property distribution cases require outside professionals who can bring their considerable skill set to the table. These are individuals who specialize in such matters as finance, accounting, forensic accounting, real estate appraisals, valuation, and taxation. Working with your attorney, these specialists can provide advice and serve as expert witnesses.
Contact Our Complex Property Distribution Attorney
If you’re a high net worth individual, you’ve got a lot at stake in your divorce. Let us help. Orlando Family Team has the experience and resources it takes to protect your interests. Give us a call today.