What is “equitable distribution” in Florida?
Equitable distribution refers to the way in which spouses in Florida divide their property and debts in a divorce/dissolution of marriage case. Florida does not have community property laws as other states may have; rather, Florida requires an “equitable“ or fair and just division.
If spouses are unable to reach an agreement as to the distribution of their marital estate on their own, Florida Statute 61.075 states that the trial court has the power to divide the parties’ marital assets and debts, beginning with the premise that distribution should be equal, unless there is justification for an unequal distribution.
Assets and debts may be identified as of the date of filing of a divorce proceeding or a date determined by the parties by agreement, but the value of assets/debts may be set as of the filing date, the trial date, or another date that is just and equitable under the circumstances.
Because assets/valuation dates may differ from asset-asset or debt-debt, many considerations must be taken into account.
Additional issues which may arise include whether : there is justification for an unequal distribution; there has been marital waste or dissipation; or post-filing contributions have been made to cause the appreciation of an asset, which may affect the value and/or distribution of a particular asset/debt.
When determining which assets are not part of the marital estate in a divorce case, Florida family law courts must therefore take a very calculated approach. Some assets, or a portion thereof, might be deemed non-marital in nature.
However, if marital income or assets have been commingled with the non-marital/premarital asset, the non-marital nature of the asset might not be preserved.
Due to the complexity of equitable distribution, I highly recommend it not be decided without the advice of counsel specializing in marital and family law; particularly when businesses, retirement accounts, and/or alimony are at issue.
In the next series, we will be talking about the “A“ in P.E.A.C.E. (i.e. alimony); the third factor that a Court considers when deciding issues in a Florida divorce case.