When a couple decides to get divorced, they can divide their property in one of two ways. The first option is for the couple to work together to decide who will keep which pieces of property, and who will be responsible for which debts. If the divorcing parties can agree on how to divide all of their debts and assets, they then put their agreement in writing and present it to the court for its approval. If the court approves the parties’ proposed division of property, it becomes part of their divorce decree.
As you might imagine, many couples do not agree about how to divvy up all of their assets and debts. When parties cannot come to an agreement regarding their marital property, the court does it for them. In Florida, courts divide marital property between divorcing spouses according to the principle of equitable distribution.
When a Florida court makes a property division, it uses a four-step process. The first step in the process is identifying all of the property that the divorcing couple owns. While most of us think of property in terms of assets, it is important to remember that debts are also a form of property, and so is income.
Once the property has been identified, the court decides which items will be included in the property division and which will be excluded. In Florida divorces, only marital property is divided by the court. Separate property remains with the spouse who owns it. In order for an item to be considered separate property, it must be acquired by one party before the marriage and kept separate from marital or family property for the duration of the marriage. In some limited circumstances, property acquired during the marriage may also qualify as separate property.
Once the collection of assets and liabilities which comprise the couple’s marital estate has been identified, the court assigns a value to each piece of marital property. In some cases, experts may need to present evidence of the values of certain assets. For example, the services of a CPA or actuary may be required to determine the values of complex financial assets like pension plans, stock options, or a business.
After values have been assigned to all of the marital property, the court divides the property between the parties. A variety of factors are involved in the court’s decision about how to divide the marital property. The length of the marriage is one factor, as are the financial and non-monetary contributions of each spouse. Common sense also plays a big role, especially where things like a business or a home are involved. It would not make sense to give the divorcing parties equal ownership rights in the business that one of them owns. It would make more sense to let the business owner keep the business, while either buying out the other party’s interest in it or assigning a collection of other assets with the same total value as the business to the party who is not keeping the business. Most of the time equitable distribution of property results in each party receiving an equal share of the marital estate. In some cases, such as where one spouse has wasted marital assets on drugs, an affair, or gambling, the court may make a property distribution which is unequal, with a greater amount being given to the injured spouse.
If you are interested in learning more about your legal options, contact the Law Offices of James S. Cunha, P.A. now at 1 (800) 558-1227 or locally at (561) 429-3924. James S. Cunha, Esq. is a highly skilled and knowledgeable lawyer who handles family law and divorce proceedings located throughout the West Palm Beach, Boca Rotan, Wellington, Jupiter, Palm Beach County, Broward County, Martin County areas. Our firm’s bottom line is to do what it takes to fight for your rights and help you obtain what you want and deserve out of your divorce case.