Understanding Equitable Distribution in Florida Divorces
When a marriage comes to an end, the division of marital property can become one of the most contentious issues. In Florida, the process is governed by the principles of equitable distribution. Unlike community property states, where marital property is generally divided equally, Florida courts strive to divide assets and liabilities in a manner that is fair but not necessarily equal.
What Constitutes Marital Property?
Before diving into the division process, it's essential to understand what is considered "marital property" in Florida. Marital property includes all assets and debts acquired during the marriage by either spouse. This can encompass real estate, bank accounts, retirement funds, businesses, and more. Non-marital assets, such as those acquired before the marriage or through inheritance or gift to one spouse, are typically excluded from equitable distribution.
The Equitable Distribution Process
The court begins by identifying all assets and liabilities as either marital or non-marital. Next, each asset and liability is valued, usually as of the date of separation. The court then considers a variety of factors to determine an equitable division. These factors include:
- The duration of the marriage
- Each spouse's economic circumstances
- The contribution to the marriage by each spouse
- The interruption of personal careers or educational opportunities
- 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, and production of income or the improvement of, or the incurring of liabilities to, both the marital assets and non-marital assets of the parties
- The desirability of retaining the marital home as a residence for any dependent child
- The intentional dissipation, waste, depletion, or destruction of marital assets after the filing of the petition or within 2 years prior to filing
In practice, this means that if one spouse stayed home to raise children while the other worked, the court may award a larger portion of the marital property to the stay-at-home spouse to reflect their contributions. Similarly, if one spouse squandered marital assets through gambling or extravagant spending shortly before divorce proceedings commenced, this would be taken into account.
Case Examples and Historical References
Historically, Florida courts have emphasized fairness rather than strict equality. For example, in Canakaris v. Canakaris (1980), the Florida Supreme Court held that an unequal distribution could be justified based on factors such as age, health, economic status, and contribution to the marriage.
Another notable case is Kaaa v. Kaaa (2005), where the court decided that even though both parties contributed economically during their long-term marriage, other factors such as future earning capacity should be considered when dividing assets.
Florida's approach to dividing marital property requires careful consideration by divorcing spouses. It is crucial for individuals going through a divorce in Florida to understand their rights under equitable distribution laws and consider seeking legal counsel to navigate this complex area effectively.