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What factors are considered in equitable property distribution?

Florida law, like that in the majority of states, provides for the "equitable distribution" of marital assets and debts -- those incurred during the marriage, either by one or both spouses -- in divorce. Unlike states that recognize marital assets as "community property" that is divided in half, "equitable" doesn't necessarily mean "equal."

Florida law starts with the assumption that marital assets and liabilities are divided equally "unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution based on all relevant factors." Therefore, if a couple is unable to reach a property division agreement on their own and relies on a court to do it, what "relevant factors" are considered? They include the following:

  • The economic circumstances of both spouses
  • How long the marriage lasted
  • How much each spouse contributed to the marriage, home and children
  • Whether one spouse helped the other pursue their education and/or career.
  • Whether one spouse delayed or gave up educational and/or career opportunities

When considering individual assets, a judge may consider the desirability of one spouse alone retaining the asset (such as a business or the family home). They'll also consider how much each spouse contributed to the acquisition or improvement of an asset. If a spouse intentionally sought to deplete an asset within two years before or any time after filing for divorce -- like emptying out a bank account -- that can negatively impact the portion of marital assets they receive.

Judges are required to state their reasons for dividing assets unequally. Therefore, it's essential to make a strong case backed by evidence if you wish to receive a larger share of your marital assets than your spouse (or be responsible for a smaller share of the marital debt). If you want to be awarded full ownership of a particular asset, you need to make the case for that as well.

Your family law attorney can help you determine which assets and liabilities are marital ones versus nonmarital ones. From there, they can help you work toward your property division goals, whether with your spouse and their attorney or before a judge.

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