Florida is an equitable distribution of property jurisdiction, which essentially means that the marital estate (i.e. marital assets and debts) should be divided “equitably” between the parties to a divorce. While a court must begin with the premise that the distribution of marital property should be equal, the law in Florida permits for an unequal distribution depending on the case. For example, a Florida court may order an unequal distribution of property where one of the spouses misuses or “wastes” marital assets.
Florida Statute Section 61.075(1) enumerates the factors that a judge may consider when determining an equitable distribution of marital assets and debts. The statute specifically designates the following factors for consideration: (1) the contributions of each spouse during the marriage, (2) the financial circumstances of the parties, (3) the duration of the marriage, (4) the sacrifice of personal careers or educational opportunities of either spouse, (5) the contribution to the personal career of the other spouse, (6) the desirability of retaining any asset, including an interest in a business, corporation, or professional practice, (7) each spouse’s contribution to the purchase, improvement or enhancement of assets, and production of income or the incurring liabilities, (8) the desirability of retaining the marital home as a residence for any dependent child of the marriage, or any other party, when it would be equitable to do so, (9) a spouse’s intentional depletion, waste and/or dissipation of marital property, and (10) any other factors based on justice and fairness to both parties.
While these factors may sound rather expansive, Florida courts have construed this provision narrowly in terms of reaching an unequal division of marital property based on misconduct. Generally, misconduct by a spouse must result in actually diminishing the size of the parties’ marital estate to justify an unequal distribution of marital property.
Below are just a few basic factual scenarios where Florida appellate courts have either affirmed or reversed the family court’s unequal distribution of marital property:
(Affirmed) Unequal Distribution of Marital Property in Florida
- A spouse diverting money to an improper relationship in the form of gifts, hotel expenses, travel costs
- Gambling losses by a spouse
(Reversed) Unequal Distribution of Marital Property in Florida
- Spouse made high risk investments
- Support obligations from prior marriages
- Showing that an affair by a spouse led to emotional hardships to the family
The general principle that emerges from the above scenarios is that the misconduct generally must not be condoned, and under certain situations known at the time, by the other spouse. The misuse of the marital funds also must be intentional and result in an actual depletion of the parties’ marital estate.