Alimony Case Examples – Jointly Owned Property
In dissolution of marriage proceedings, like all assets, jointly owned assets have to be distributed to and among the former spouses.
In determining the distribution of assets, courts will consider each spouses’ contribution, both physically and monetarily, in determining what is a marital asset and what is not. Also, different assets, including jointly owned property, may have unusual equitable distributions, even if they are presumably owned by the parties equally.
Jointly owned real estate, business interests, investment accounts, checking and savings accounts, and other jointly owned assets may all be subject to varying distribution schemes as part of an alimony award. The court may need to look at each asset on a case-by-case basis, and this article will explore the different considerations courts will make when determining a just and equitable distribution of jointly owned assets.
Investment Account, Business, And Real Property Found to be Non-Marital Assets – Only an Enhancement of Value of These Assets Could be a Marital Asset
Pinder v. Pinder – 750 So. 2d 651
Mr. and Mrs. Pinder were married in 1982, which was shortly after Mrs. Pinder divorced her previous husband. Mrs. Pinder bought a house in Florida and the couple moved from Pennsylvania to live there. The title was in Mrs. Pinder’s name but both parties contributed to mortgage payments and completed work on the house.
The property settlement from Mrs. Pinder’s previous marriage was not completed until several years into her marriage with Mr. Pinder. When the property settlement was completed, Mrs. Pinder received sole title to a four-story building in Pennsylvania as well as the preschool business that was on the first floor of the building.
Mrs. Pinder started the preschool prior to her marriage to Mr. Pinder, and she continued to run the business with the help of Mr. Pinder. After several years living in Florida, the couple moved back to Pennsylvania and lived on the upper floors of the four-story building. Mr. Pinder performed and/or financed renovations on the building.
At trial, the court found that 50% of the building and preschool business was marital property. The appeals court disagreed. According to the court, the building nor the business were acquired as jointly owned assets because Mrs. Pinder had sole title to them after divorcing her first husband, and she received these assets by exchanging them with assets that she acquired before marrying Mr. Pinder. As a result, the court held that both the business and the building are Mrs. Pinder’s nonmarital property. However, the appeals court ordered the trial court to determine if the business or building had been enhanced by marital assets or labor. If so, any enhancement would be a marital asset subject to distribution.
Additionally, the appeals court held that Mrs. Pinder’s investment account was not a marital asset as the money in the account came from an inheritance that Mrs. Pinder received from a family member. This is true even though Mrs. Pinder withdrew the money from the account for marital purposes. The court reasoned that the remaining money was never commingled and remained a nonmarital asset.
Finally, the appellate court determined the couple’s home in Florida was also not a marital asset. However, the trial court was ordered to determine if the value of the Florida home had been enhanced by marital assets or labor. If so, these enhancements would be marital assets subject to distribution as part of an alimony award.
Former Husband Not Entitled to Special Equity in The Marital Home Nor in A Second Jointly Owned Property
Strickland v. Strickland – 494 So. 2d 514
Mr. and Mrs. Strickland were married for fourteen years and both were employed throughout the marriage. Each party had been responsible for lump-sum payments into the joint bank account. On one occasion, Mr. Strickland deposited a $10,000.00 payment from his employer and Mrs. Strickland deposited $20,000.00 from inheritance and deposited proceeds from the sale of an earlier home.
From their joint bank account, they put funds toward the purchase and financing of their first property, a lot in Loxahatchee, upon which they ultimately constructed their home over a period of many years with the help of the husband’s physical labor.
Also from the same joint bank account, they put part of a down payment for a St. Cloud property. Mrs. Strickland’s name was the only owner listed on the deed, but the husband alleged that this was only for convenience and financing purposes and that the property was actually purchased for Mr. Strickland and his brothers. Mr. Strickland also claimed that all mortgage payments on the St. Cloud property were made by his brothers.
With respect to the Loxahatchee property, the court found no reason to distinguish physical labor from income in determining if special equity existed. According to the case, physical labor performed by one spouse on jointly owned property is not considered to be from a source unconnected with the marriage for purposes of determining whether special equity exists. Thus, Mr. Strickland was not entitled to special equity in the jointly owned Loxahatchee home based on his physical labor contribution.
Regarding the St. Cloud property, the trial court awarded special equity to Mr. Strickland on the basis of the contribution to building the home by his brothers. However, on appeal, the court found that the trial court had made no findings on this issue and had not stated whether the allocation of a credit to Mr. Strickland was actually a special equity. The appellate court found that Mr. Strickland failed to produce any evidence that would justify special equity in Mrs. Strickland’s half of their joint interest in the property.
Ultimately, the appellate court ruled that Mrs. Strickland’s one-half interest in the first home should be recognized and the trial court was ordered to make a finding of fact with respect to the St Cloud property.
Presumption of a Gift of the Marital Home – Burden is on The Former Husband to Prove No Gift Was Intended
Cattaneo v. Cattaneo – 803 So. 2d 889
Mrs. Cattaneo appealed a final judgment of dissolution of marriage. Mrs. Cattaneo was married to Mr. Cattaneo for two years, living in Palm Coast, Florida in a jointly owned home. Mr. Cattaneo alleged that his former wife, who was from Trinidad, had married him for the sole purpose of obtaining US residency. However, the court found no evidence of this.
The couple stipulated that the marital home had a value of $90,000. The trial court awarded 50% of the increase in the home’s value during the marriage to Mrs. Cattaneo, but the base cost of the marital home was subject to Mr. Cattaneo’s special equity from his non-marital assets. The trial court’s reasoning for this was that the plot of land on which the home was built was purchased at $4,400 with the husband’s assets, and the house was then contracted to be built for $82,510, also with money from Mr. Cattaneo’s assets.
Mrs. Cattaneo claimed that the home was a gift by Mr. Cattaneo as it was under both of their names.
The trial court suggested that Mrs. Cattaneo had the burden of proving that Mr. Cattaneo intended the home to be a gift to her. However, under Florida Statute § 61.075(5), the burden was actually on Mr. Cattaneo to prove that the home was not intended to be a gift. According to the court, Mr. Cattaneo did not put on enough evidence to overcome the presumption that the gift was intended. The home was titled jointly, which Mr. Cattaneo acknowledged was done as a precaution in case something happened to him. Also, he had the title in both their names to prove to Immigration Services that the marriage was not a fraud. Ultimately, the trial court determined the home was a gift to Mrs. Cattaneo.
However, this finding did not automatically entitle Mrs. Cattaneo to half of the home’s value. The appellate court remanded the case down to the trial court to reconsider all factors necessary to determine the distribution of marital assets in a way that is equitable and just for both parties.
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If you and your former spouse are having an issue with how to determine if a jointly owned property is a marital asset 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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