What does “equitable division” mean in Florida divorce?

Divorce and Annulment courts in Florida apply the legal concept of equitable distribution when it comes time to divide the assets of a divorcing couple. This means that the entire marital estate, assets and debts, must be divided in an equitable, though not necessarily equal, manner. There is no fixed standard for dividing property, each case will be decided on the merits, and the trial court’s discretion will not likely be disturbed on appeal without a showing of clear abuse.

Property includes anything of value, tangible or not: personal items (such as cars, furniture and art work) and real property (land and houses). Debts include anything you owe money on: mortgages, car loans, and credit card bills. Really anything the two of you possess is thrown into the mix before it’s all divided.

It’s important to know that not all property is subject to equitable division. Items that qualify as non-marital may include the following: property acquired by either party before the marriage; property acquired after certain stages of the divorce process; property excluded by a written contract between the parties (likely a prenuptial agreement); and any increase in value of non-marital property that did not result from efforts of the other spouse.

Judges consider a multitude of factors when deciding how to divide property between spouses and it’s sometimes hard to know which issues hold the most sway. Here are some examples of the things judges consider when dividing property:

• The length of the marriage.
• The financial contributions of each spouse to the marriage.
• The age and health of the parties.
• Misconduct in the marriage and whether one of the spouses is the reason for the dissolution.
• The child custody arrangement.
• Any potential spousal support awards.

After determining what percentage of the marital estate each spouse should have, the next step involves coming up with the proper asset division to achieve the mandated split. This is the stage where it’s decided who gets what: the house, the cars and other assets. The division continues until each party receives their appropriate share of the marital estate.

It is important to note that even though the Family Law Court can order one party to pay a joint debt, if that person does not pay, the other party will still be liable. Your judge can order someone to pay, but he or she cannot modify the terms of an otherwise valid contract because of your divorce.

If you have questions about a divorce proceeding and would like a divorce attorney to assist you, contact us at (904) 685-1200.

Source: “Who Gets What Where,” published at EqualityInMarriage.org.

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