At the time of a Florida divorce, if the spouses are unable to agree on an appropriate division of their assets (and liabilities), the Florida court will make such a division for them. This legal process is called equitable distribution. The distribution is said to be “equitable,” because the court is not required to utilize a rigid 50/50 split; various factors may be considered in determining what is a fair division between the two spouses.
No Division of Nonmarital Property
The court does not divide or distribute “non-marital” property, however. Generally, property is considered nonmarital if:
- One spouse owned it before the marriage
- One spouse acquired it during the marriage as a gift (this does not, however, include gifts between the spouses)
- One spouse inherited the property during the time period of the marriage
Gifts or Inheritances Can Lose Their Non-Marital Status
Spouses should know, however, that gifts or inheritances can sometimes lose their special status as nonmarital property. Consider the recent Dravis case from Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal. As is the case in many families, Ms. Dravis received cash gifts from her mother from time to time. Ms. Dravis deposited the gifts into a savings account that she shared with her husband. She later testified that the account was intended to help fund her retirement. All total, the gifts amounted to $78,000.
At the time of the couple’s divorce, Ms. Dravis contended that the $78,000 in gifts should be considered non-marital property, but the trial court disagreed, finding instead that the gifts were part of the marital estate and, therefore, subject to equitable distribution. The appellate court agreed. Because the gifts had been commingled with funds that clearly were marital property, the gifts lost their non-marital status.
It is important to note that there was no evidence that the savings account had ever been used to pay any marital expenses. Ms. Dravis’ contention that the fund was intended for her retirement was legally irrelevant.
Make Sure that Actions Match Your Intentions
Under Florida law, one can generally determine a person’s intentions by that person’s actions. While Ms. Dravis may actually have intended to keep her mother’s gifts separate and apart from the couple’s finances, any such intention was completely contradicted by her actions. She deposited the money in an account held in both spouses’ names. That action put her in a very weak position later when she tried to argue that the gifts remained non-marital assets. Is there a lesson from the Dravis case? Indeed, carefully consider what account you use when depositing gifts or inherited funds.
Need Legal Advice Regarding Gifts or Inheritances? Is a Divorce in Your Future?
If you anticipate receiving significant gifts or inheritances, you may want to consult with an experienced, caring attorney who can advise you as to your options. If you are facing a divorce, separation, or other family law issue, don’t face the difficulty without sound guidance, as well. At Beller & Bustamante, P.L., we have the knowledge and experience to represent your interests vigorously when it comes to a divorce or any other family law issue. Contact us online or call us at (904) 288-4414 today.