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State's high court rules on spousal property dispute

Property division may be one of the most difficult aspects of divorce in Florida. Even a prenuptial agreement may not end questions over deciding what constitutes marital property that may be divided among the spouses.

The state Supreme Court recently issued a controversial decision concerning a marital dispute over dissolution of property. The Court ruled that a husband intended to give premarital property involved in a divorce dispute as a gift between spouses despite their premarital agreements.

Florida courts had earlier ruled that premarital property belonging to a party remains their property after marriage unless they change its title. Many legal commentators argue that the Court's decision conflicts with long-standing court rulings.

The wife filed for divorce in 2010 after 13 years of marriage in this case. According to their prenups, they agreed that they would each keep their premarital properties if there was ever a divorce. Once the husband's premarital properties became disputed, the wife argued that the husband had the intent to donate the properties that were used for their residence even though the properties did not list her.

The Court agreed with the trial court in finding that there was sufficient evidence to support the finding that the properties were and should be considered as joint marital assets of both spouses which can be divided through equitable distribution. The spouses intended that these properties be treated as joint marital assets that should be divided equally because they lived and raised a family in these properties.

The parties' interaction as spouses over the years, according to a commentator, led the Court to conclude that the husband intended to donate half of his interests in the property to his spouse and treating this premarital property as marital property. However, the Court apparently did not address how the husband relinquished his interest in the properties.

The American Academy of Matrimonial Law Florida Chapter and the Florida Bar Association will submit a friend of the court brief with the state Supreme Court seeking a rehearing. The Court will grant the motion or deny it and issue its ruling as final.

Parties in a high asset divorce be impacted by this ruling. A spouse should seek legal guidance in addressing this issue and drafting a prenuptial agreement that takes the Court's rulings into consideration.

Source: Florida Record, "Law groups concerned about high court's departure from case law in ruling of marriage property dispute." By Tricia Erickson, April 26, 2017

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