Alimony Case Examples – Bank & Brokerage Accounts
In dissolution of marriage proceedings, there are many ways a former couple’s premarital bank or brokerage account may become marital property subject to equitable distribution for purposes of alimony.
Under Florida §61.075(6), marital assets include assets acquired during the marriage, both individually by each spouse or jointly. When individual funds become commingled in a joint account, the court will presume that these funds were meant to be a gift to the other spouse and the burden will be on the spouse seeking to have the property declared as nonmarital to show that the gift was not intended.
The following three cases will show how the courts have analyzed bank accounts, brokerage accounts, and other accounts in order to determine if they are marital property subject to equitable distribution.
Bank Accounts and Stock Portfolio Should Not Have Been Classified as Marital Assets
Street v. Street 303 So. 3d 1253
In this case, Mr. Street appealed a final judgment dissolving his marriage due to the trial court classifying several accounts, stocks, and vehicles as marital assets.
In determining if the trial court correctly classified the assets as marital or nonmarital, per Florida Statute § 61.075(6), the appellate court considered how the accounts were titled, was there a commingling of marital and nonmarital funds, was there an increase in value of the accounts because of marital efforts, who had control of the funds, the length of the marriage, and intent of the parties concerning the marital or nonmarital status of the funds.
In this case, the appellate court found that two accounts opened prior to the marriage should not have been classified as marital assets subject to equitable distribution because the accounts were listed in the husband’s name only and nothing in the record suggested that the accounts had been commingled with marital funds.
The court found that there were three accounts that had been opened during the marriage that should also not have been classified as marital assets subject to equitable distribution because even though the accounts were opened while the parties were married, the Former Wife admitted that she did not put any marital funds into any of the three accounts. Tracing two of the accounts showed no marital funds deposited into the accounts, and there was nothing in the record that indicated that marital funds were commingled with pre-marital funds in these accounts.
Also, Mr. Street’s stock portfolio in seven companies should not have been classified as a marital asset subject to equitable distribution because he acquired this stock before the marriage and there was no evidence of commingling or enhancement of the stock during the marriage, nor was there any evidence that the stocks were meant to be a gift to the Former Wife.
Finally, the court held that two vehicles and a motorcycle should not have been classified as marital assets subject to equitable distribution because even though the vehicles and motorcycle were acquired during the marriage because they were purchased with funds from an account that was already determined to be a non-marital asset. A gifted motorcycle that the Former Husband received from his father should not have been considered marital property either.
Former Wife’s Funds Became a Marital Asset When They Were Comingled in a Joint Bank Account
Knecht v. Palmer 252 So. 3d 842
Here, the Former Husband appealed a judgment by the trial court, arguing that the trial court incorrectly classified certain assets as marital or nonmarital.
On appeal, the court found that funds that originated from the wife’s bank account were later drawn from a joint checking account in order to pay for renovations on the marital home, these were marital funds because the Former Wife commingled funds by placing them into a joint checking account and the Former Husband also contributed money to the joint checking account. When one spouse deposits funds into a joint checking account, they become commingled with other funds and are untraceable. According to the court, this behavior warrants a presumption that the spouse was making a gift to the other spouse of one-half interest in the funds.
Additionally, the Former Wife sold a piece of artwork and the Former Husband claimed that he and the Former Wife had written a contract establishing that the Former Husband would be entitled to 20% of payments received for the artwork for his help in facilitating the sale. There was testimony that the Former Wife had previously given the Former Husband checks consistent with this alleged contract, but the Former Husband was unable to produce the written contract and the payments to the Former Husband occurred well after the artwork was sold. Therefore, the artwork remained a non-marital asset.
Former Wife’s One-Third Interest in Proceeds From The Sale of Real Estate Constituted a Marital Asset
Sorgen v. Sorgen 162 So. 3d 45
Mr. Sorgen appealed the final judgment of a dissolution of marriage which determined that the Former Wife’s one-third interest in the proceeds from the sale of rental property was not a marital asset.
On appeal, the court found that the wife’s one-third interest in the proceeds from the sale was actually marital property because the proceeds from the sale were commingled when they were put into the Former Husband and Former Wife’s joint bank account. The Former Wife did not show intent to keep the asset non-marital, as she did not place the funds into a separate account. When one spouse deposits funds into a joint account, they become commingled and untraceable. A presumption is therefore created that the spouse was making a gift to the other spouse of one-half interest in the funds.
Under Florida law, the burden is on the spouse seeking to have the property declared as nonmarital. In order to overcome the gift presumption, the former wife must prove by clear and convincing evidence that she did not intend to make a gift. In this case, the Former Wife does not dispute that she deposited proceeds from the home into the joint account and that she used the funds from the joint account to pay taxes on the property. Consequently, the court found that the former wife presented no evidence to rebut the presumption that the wife gifted the Former Husband one-half interest in the property.
The appeal court reversed the final judgment and found the one-third interest to be marital property.
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If you and your former spouse are having an issue with how to determine if jointly owned bank accounts and brokerage accounts are marital assets and therefore part of an alimony award, then you should consult with an experienced Florida family law attorney to help resolve this issue in an equitable manner.
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