When a couple decides to end their marriage, one of the most significant potential areas of dispute is the division of property or marital assets. Each state has its own set of laws dictating how property should be distributed in the event of a contentious divorce, and Florida is no exception. In this state, the division of property is based on a system known as “equitable distribution.”
Equitable distribution operates on the principle that both assets and debts should be divided in a manner that is fair to both spouses given the circumstances. Although the law says that the court is supposed to start with the presumption that everything should be divided equally, that’s a rebuttable presumption. In other words, there’s no guarantee of a 50/50 split.
First, you have to figure out what is and is not marital property
Before property division takes place, the assets and debts of each spouse are categorized as either separate property or marital property through a careful inventory process. Generally, separate property includes assets and debts owned by each spouse before the marriage, while marital property consists of assets and debts acquired by either spouse during the marriage (with certain exceptions). Separate property is generally not subject to equitable distribution, but marital property is.
Second, you have to consider all relevant factors regarding a fair split
Divorcing spouses have the option to negotiate the division of property themselves. That not only allows couples to avoid the expense of litigation but to also retain more control over the outcome of the split. If negotiations fail and the court has to get involved, the judge will generally consider things like:
- The financial situation of each spouse: For example, the income, debts and overall financial stability of both partners will be considered.
- The duration or length of the marriage: A longer marriage may result in a more intricate division of property due to the shared assets and debts that have accumulated over time.
- Contributions to education or career advancement: For example, if one spouse financially supported the other’s educational or professional endeavors before, it may be a factor in determining property distribution now.
- Lost educational or career opportunities: If one spouse’s education or career prospects were negatively affected due to the marriage, it might influence the division of property.
- Each party’s contributions to the marriage: Both financial and non-financial contributions, such as homemaking, childcare responsibilities or acting as unpaid support staff for the other spouse’s business, may be taken into account.
If you’re going through a divorce with complex property issues, the wisest thing you can do is to seek legal guidance proactively. It is possible that you and your spouse can agree to the terms of your divorce. But, if not, working with an attorney can help you to prepare effectively for a contentious process.