Alimony Case Examples – What is Marital Property?
Determining what is considered marital property is one of the most important and contested issues that courts must address in alimony proceedings. From the marital home to retirement benefits, bank accounts, etc., the court will consider several factors in determining what is a marital asset.
Marital assets are typically defined as those assets acquired during the marriage, through the contributions of both spouses by their work, service, or earnings. Additionally, interspousal gifts may also have to be considered by the court in determining marital assets. (Interspousal gifts are required to pass a three-part test in order for the court to consider the transfer as marital property. If competent substantial evidence establishes a transfer as an interspousal gift, it will be considered a marital asset subject to distribution.)
The following three cases will explore a variety of factors a court may consider in determining what property is a marital asset when awarding alimony.
Former Wife is Not Entitled to Equitable Distribution of Former Husband’s Military and Retirement Benefits.
In this case, the trial court had previously entered a final judgment of dissolution of marriage that included the equitable distribution of marital assets, and the former husband appealed.
Mr. and Mrs. Brathwaite were married in 1995 while Mr. Brathwaite was serving in the Navy. Three years after getting married Mr. Brathwaite retired from the Navy. About 10 years later, Mr. Brathwaite filed for dissolution of marriage.
On appeal, the court found that the trial court could not award the former wife half of Mr. Brathwaite’s military retirement benefits because a portion of his military benefit actually accrued before the parties were married, and therefore, only the portion of the military benefit that accrued during the marriage was a marital asset that was subject to equitable distribution.
The appeal court found that premarital contributions to retirement pensions should have been excluded when distributing marital assets. The trial court awarded Mrs. Brathwaite half of the total value of Mr. Brathwaite’s retirement benefits. However, Mrs. Brathwaite was entitled to equitable distribution only to the retirement benefits that accrued during the marriage. Florida statute §61.076(1) states that “[a]ll vested and nonvested benefits, rights, and funds accrued during the marriage in retirement, pension, profit-sharing, annuity, deferred compensation, and insurance plans and programs are marital assets subject to equitable distribution.” Therefore, Mr. Brathwaite’s retirement that accrued before the marriage was a non-marital asset and should not have been distributed.
Substantial Evidence Existed To Show That Two Properties Were An Interspousal Gift
Mrs. Hooker petitioned the Florida Supreme Court for further review of a finding by the District Court of Appeal which made a determination on marital assets.
According to the court, courts are to automatically presume that an even division of marital assets is equitable unless either party shows otherwise. Marital assets are assets acquired by the parties during their marriage from their work efforts, services, and earnings. In determining what property is a marital asset, the property does not automatically go to the person who holds the title. In this case, Mrs. Hooker claims that her former husband gifted her two properties during their marriage.
To establish an interspousal gift, there must be (1) donative intent, (2) delivery or possession of the gift, and (3) delivery of the gift and relinquishing of all possession and control. The standard of review for determining the first element, donative intent, is competent substantial evidence.
Here, competent substantial evidence existed to support the trial court’s finding that Mr. Hooker had the donative intent to gift Mrs. Hooker a horse farm with a home on it, even though the property was purchased by Mr. Hooker with nonmarital assets. The court ruled the property became marital property as Mrs. Hooker and Mr. Hooker both signed the mortgage on the property, the property was the parties’ marital residence through the majority of the marriage and it is where they raised their children and lived as a family, and the parties transferred title to the property to an entity created to hold the marital home.
Additionally, the court held that a New York summer home was also an interspousal gift even though Mr. Hooker purchased the property with premarital assets. That’s because the home was the family’s summer residence throughout the majority of their marriage, Mr. Hooker sent Mrs. Hooker a card for their tenth wedding anniversary with a picture of the property after Mrs. Hooker expressed her desire to have a home up north, and Mrs. Hooker purchased some furnishing and incidentals for the home from her separate funds.
Former Wife Was Entitled to 22 Acres of Land That Was Purchased With Joint Funds
Mrs. Ballew appealed a finding by the trial court that found that 22 acres of land in North Carolina were purchased with joint funds and titled solely in Mr. Ballew’s name was nonmarital property.
In this case, the land was purchased during the parties’ marriage. Mrs. Ballew testified that the land was purchased from the parties’ joint checking account and that the title was in Mr. Ballew’s name.
It is well settled that property purchased with joint funds is a marital asset. Florida statute §61.075(5)(a) provides that an asset that is acquired during the course of a marriage, even if the title is only in the name of one spouse, is a marital asset unless it is shown that the property was acquired using nonmarital assets or income. In this case, Mrs. Ballew’s testimony showed that the 22 acres were purchased using joint funds, which Mr. Ballew confirmed. Mr. Ballew argued that the land was nonmarital property based on the fact that his non-marital home was located on the land. The court disagreed and ruled Mrs. Ballew was entitled to equitable distribution of the land because it was purchased with joint funds.
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