A division of property and assets case was recently decided by the Florida Court of Appeal in a case captioned Hamilton v. Hamilton.  In this case, the husband appealed the Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage based upon the fact that the trial court awarded an unequal division of the parties’ assets to the wife.  The husband contended that the trial court improperly classified over fifty thousand ($50,000.00) dollars of husband’s credit card debt as nonmarital debt.

The Florida Court of Appeal ruled that marital assets and marital liabilities are all assets acquired and all liabilities incurred during the course of a marriage.  These assets and liabilities may be acquired during the course of the marriage by either spouse, jointly, or individually.  There is a presumption in Florida law that all assets acquired and all liabilities incurred after the date of marriage which are not specifically designated as nonmarital assets and nonmarital liabilities are presumed to be marital assets and marital liabilities.

In the case at bar, the husband incurred charges on several credit cards that were used to pay for business expenses and personal living expenses during the course of the parties’ marriage.   The trial court concluded that the husband’s business expenses were nonmarital debt because the Husband failed to provide the trial court with evidence that any portion of the debt was marital.  The Florida Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s ruling.  The Florida Court of Appeal ruled that the trial court’s designation of the husband’s business expenses as nonmarital liabilities failed to comply with Florida’s statutory presumption that all assets acquired and all liabilities incurred during the course of a marriage, which are not specifically established as nonmarital assets and nonmarital liabilities, are presumed to be marital.  Absent any evidence that the husband’s business expenses were specifically established as nonmarital liabilities, they are presumed to be marital liabilities.  Since there was no evidence in the record that showed that the husband’s business expenses were nonmarital, the Florida Court of Appeal ruled that they were marital liabilities.

Alimony payments may be reduced or terminated when a former spouse enters into a supportive relationship.  The payor bears the burden to prove that a supportive relationship exists.  Some of the factors that Florida courts assess in determining whether a supportive relationship exists are as follows:

First, whether the recipient and the cohabiting party have held themselves out as a married couple.

Second, the amount of time that the parties have resided together in a permanent residence.

An alimony case involving the reimbursement of business expenses was recently decided by the Florida Court of Appeal in a case captioned Ortega v. Wood.  In Ortega v. Wood, the husband was an optician who owned an optical business with his mother.  The wife sought to impute income to the husband for in-kind benefits and business expense reimbursements that were provided to the husband by his business.  The optical business provided the husband with an apartment at no cost and paid for his personal expenses, including his dentist appointments, his doctor’s appointments, his massages, his lab tests, his pharmaceuticals, his lawn mower, and products that he ordered from GNC.

In reaching its alimony determination, the trial court did not consider the business’ provision of the husband’s apartment and the payments for the husband’s medical appointments, dental appointments, lab tests, massages, GNC products, and pharmaceuticals to be income. Because the husband testified that the business provided all of its employees with the same reimbursements, the trial court ruled that these payments were reasonable business expenses and did not consider them to be income when it calculated the husband’s alimony obligation.

The wife appealed the trial court’s Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage to the Florida Court of Appeal.  The Florida Court of Appeal reversed the trial court and held that the trial court should have included the in-kind payments and expense reimbursements that husband received from the optical business in determining the husband’s alimony obligation.  The appellate court pointed out that under Florida law, for purposes of calculating alimony, “income” is defined as any type of payment, including, without limitation, salary, wages, bonuses, commissions, disability benefits, worker’s compensation, retirement benefits and annuities, dividends, pensions, interest, trusts, royalties, and any other payments made by a private entity, person, or governmental entity.

A division of property and assets case involving the exclusive use and occupancy of the marital home was recently decided by the Florida Court of Appeal.  In a case captioned Ortiz v. Ortiz, the husband and wife were married in 2010, and had three children. They lived in Tennessee for most of their marriage, and then moved to Florida.  The parties obtained a VA loan to purchase their home in Florida.  After the parties moved to Florida, the wife found employment and the husband started attending culinary school in Orlando, Florida.  When the husband’s culinary school in Orlando closed, the husband moved to Miami to attend culinary school.

The wife filed for divorce.  In the wife’s Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, the wife sought exclusive use and possession of the marital home.  The trial court awarded the Wife exclusive use and possession of the marital home until the parties’ youngest child reached the age of eighteen or the wife remarried.

The Florida Court of Appeal affirmed the ruling of the trial court.  The Florida Court of Appeal stated that the marital home, like any other asset, is subject to equitable distribution.  A trial court may deviate from the presumption that there should be an equal division of property and assets and may award one of the parties exclusive use and occupancy of the marital home under the following circumstances: (i) when it is desirable to retain the marital home as a place in which the parties’ dependent children should live, (ii) when it is in the children’s best interests, (iii) when it would be equitable to award one of the parties exclusive use and occupancy of the marital home, and (iv) when the parties are financially capable of maintaining the marital home.

In a recently decided alimony case captioned Morgan v. Morgan, the Florida Court of Appeal ruled that the size of an alimony award is based upon the standard of living that was established by the parties during the course of the marriage, and not the parties’ postseparation lifestyle.

In Morgan v. Morgan, the husband appealed the final judgment of dissolution of marriage.  He challenged the trial court’s alimony award and its equitable distribution of the parties’ assets.  The Florida Court of Appeal reversed both of the trial court’s rulings on these issues.

During the course of the marriage, the husband and wife had a comfortable lifestyle.  They lived in large homes, frequently traveled, and never had to worry about paying their bills.  After the parties separated, the husband could only afford to live in a small apartment, drive an old truck, and could barely pay his bills.  The trial court’s final judgment stated that during the course of the marriage, the husband and wife lived a lifestyle that was “upper-middle class”. The lower court acknowledged that the husband’s current lifestyle was not consistent with the parties’ lifestyle during the course of the marriage.  At the time that the trial took place, the evidence showed that the wife’s income was seventy-five (75%) percent greater than the husband’s income.  Despite these findings, the trial court only awarded the husband one thousand ($1,000.00) dollars per month in alimony.

In an alimony case captioned Speigner v. Speigner, the parties were married for almost twenty (20) years.  Both parties worked during the course of the marriage.  The Husband had the larger income.  The Wife worked, raised the parties’ children and ran the household.

After hearing the evidence, the trial court found that the Wife had a need for support and the former husband had the ability to pay.  The court stated that the Wife had significant business acumen and found that both the Husband and the Wife had the capacity to earn additional income. The trial court awarded the Wife eight years of durational alimony.

The Florida Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s ruling.  In reversing the lower court’s ruling the appellate court pointed out that in Florida, a long-term marriage is a marriage that exceeds seventeen years.  There is a rebuttable presumption that permanent alimony will be awarded following a long-term marriage.  This presumption can only be rebutted if there is proof that after termination of the alimony payments the recipient spouse has the capacity to support him or herself at the marital standard of living.  Durational alimony is only appropriate if the court finds that the recipient spouse does not have an ongoing need for support on a permanent basis.  In order to justify an award of durational alimony following a long-term marriage, a court must find that the recipient spouse is capable of attaining a level of self-support that is commensurate with the marital standard of living at the time that the durational alimony expires.

A divorce case involving the imputation of income to a stay-at-home parent was recently decided by the Florida Court of Appeal.  In a case captioned Wilkins v. Wilkins, the Former Wife appealed the lower court’s order granting temporary relief to the Former Husband.  During the course of their relationship, the Former Husband and the Former Wife agreed that the Former Wife would live with her family and take care of the parties’ minor child and a child from the Former Wife’s previous relationship while she was completing her nursing degree.

The trial court found that the Former Wife took only one nursing course during the time that she lived with her family, and imputed income to the Former Wife for purposes of calculating child support.  The trial court ordered the Former Wife to pay child support to her Former Husband, who was on active military duty.

The Florida Court of Appeal reversed the decision of the trial court.  The appellate court ruled that although a trial court is ordinarily required to impute income to a parent who is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, a trial court should give great deference to the parties’ joint decision that one of the parents should stay home to raise their children.

Valuation dates are important in high asset/high net-worth divorces cases in Florida.  In a case captioned Murphy v. Murphy, the Florida Court of Appeal recently addressed this issue.  In Murphy v. Murphy the Husband appealed the Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage.  The Wife cross-appealed the trial court’s Final Judgment.

The Husband and Wife were married in 2001.  In 2003, the Husband opened an investment and retirement savings plan.  The Husband contributed to the investment and retirement savings plan during the course of the parties’ marriage.  After the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage was filed, the Husband continued to contribute to the investment and retirement savings plan.  The trial court ruled that the investment and retirement savings plan was a marital asset.  Accordingly, the lower court divided the plan equally between the parties.  The Husband argued to the Florida Court of Appeal that his contributions to the investment and retirement savings plan after the filing of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage was filed made this plan a nonmarital assets.

The Florida Court of Appeal agreed with Husband’s position and reversed the trial court.  The Florida Court of Appeal stated that in high asset/high net-worth divorce cases, when the increase in the value of an asset was the result of one spouse’s individual efforts after the filing of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, that asset should be valued as of the date of the filing of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.  For example, a business might be worth $90,000,000.00 at the time of the filing of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.  Subsequent to the filing of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, the business might be worth $180,000,000.00.  Under the Florida Court of Appeal analysis in Murphy v. Murphy, the asset will be valued for purposes of equitable distribution on the date of the filing of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.

In a division of property and assets case captioned Roth v. Roth the parties were married for twenty-nine years.  The Former Husband was seventy-four, and the Former Wife was fifty-eight.  Both had high school educations, and both worked in the automotive industry.  The Former Husband was in a car accident and suffered injuries.  The parties filed a personal injury lawsuit and received a settlement award of $28,154.00.  On the day before the Former Wife left the marital home, she withdrew $13,000.00 from the settlement funds.

The Former Wife testified that she used the portion of the settlement funds that she withdrew to pay for her attorney’s fees and to pay for her living expenses.  The Husband testified that he used a portion of the settlement proceeds to pay for his living expenses and expenses related to the parties’ home.

The trial court included the settlement proceeds in its division of property and assets in this case.  The Former Wife argued that the trial court erred when it included these funds in the Court’s equitable distribution because the funds did not exist at the time of the trial.  The Florida Court of Appeal agreed with the Former Wife’s position, and stated that ordinarily it is a mistake for a trial court to include assets in an equitable distribution scheme that no longer exist.

In a division of property and assets case captioned Roth v. Roth the Wife appealed the Final Judgment of divorce.  The parties were married for twenty-nine years.  At the time of the hearing, the Wife was fifty-eight and the Husband was seventy-four.  Both of the parties worked in the automotive industry.  The Husband was the primary income earner during the marriage.  The Wife was a stay-at-home parent after the parties’ son was born, and returned to the workforce when their son was in high school.

During the marriage, the Husband was in a car accident and suffered injuries.  The Husband and Wife filed suit and recovered $28,154.64.  The Wife withdrew approximately $13,000.00 of the settlement proceeds the day before she left the parties’ marital home. The Wife testified that she used these funds to pay for her attorney’s fees and her living expenses.   The Husband testified that he needed to use these funds to have an operation for an injury to his neck, because he could not afford it otherwise.

The Florida Court of Appeal ruled that in a personal injury case, a damage award is distributed in the following manner.  First, payments for pain and suffering, disability, loss of consortium, and loss of ability to lead a normal life are considered to be nonmarital property.  Payments for these loses belonged exclusively to the Husband.  Second, economic damages which will occur subsequent to the termination of the marriage, including lost future wages and future medical expenses are considered to be nonmarital and belong exclusively to the Husband.

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