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What Is ‘Donative Intent’ and How Can Proof of It Help You Achieve a Successful Outcome in Your Florida Divorce Case?

In some divorce cases, the most strongly contested issue may be the division of property. When it comes to the equitable distribution of assets, the law requires the courts to determine whether an asset is marital or non-marital. Achieving favorable rulings on these determinations can be worth millions in some situations. That is one reason why it pays to have an experienced Florida property division attorney on your side representing you.

One case in which this was true was the divorce of Nancy and Timothy. Nancy filed for divorce from Timothy in 2010 after 23 years of marriage. At that time, the couple had amassed substantial wealth, with a net worth in excess of $4.8 million. The couple had a valid premarital agreement that stated that each spouse, in the event of a divorce, would keep his or her premarital assets and the appreciation from them.

The dispute that emerged in the couple’s case involved two pieces of property. One parcel was a vacant lot in Wellington when the husband bought it but had become a working horse farm (and the couple’s primary marital residence) worth $4.5 million by the time of the divorce. The second property was in upstate New York and had appreciated during the marriage from $490,000 at the time of the purchase to $2.5 million at the time of the divorce.

The wife argued that the husband had “donative intent” regarding both of the properties. Donative intent means that the owner had the conscious desire to make a gift of the asset in question. The wife’s argument was that the husband’s intent and the spouses’ conduct over the years had converted the properties from the husband’s non-marital assets to marital assets that were subject to equitable distribution and were not governed by the premarital agreement.

The trial court ruled for the wife. The court decided that the evidence indicated that the couple treated both pieces of property as marital assets during the marriage and that, since both the wife and the husband had conducted themselves as if the properties were marital assets, the parcels should be considered to have been interspousal gifts.

Ultimately, the case went to the Florida Supreme Court, and that court upheld the trial judge’s decision for the wife. In making these types of determinations, courts will often look closely at the activities of the spouses, which is why having strong evidence in this area can yield substantial dividends in your trial. Regarding the horse farm in South Florida, both spouses had signed the mortgage, and the couple had used that property as their marital home (including raising their children there) for most of the marriage. Additionally, the wife was “extremely and directly involved with all aspects” of the farm.

Another thing that helped the wife was the legal treatment of the farm. In 1997, during the marriage, the husband formed an LLC and transferred ownership of the farm to the LLC. The overall conduct of the spouses, including transferring the farm to an LLC formed during the marriage, indicated that the farm was a marital asset as an interspousal gift, according to the court.

The evidence of an interspousal gift was even stronger with regard to the New York property. While the husband may have purchased it with his assets, the couple used it as their summer home throughout the marriage. Additionally, and arguably even more convincingly, the wife produced clear evidence of donative intent in the form of a 10th wedding anniversary card from the husband to her that included inside it a picture of the New York property. That served as highly persuasive proof that the summer home was an anniversary gift.

With both properties, the husband was the only spouse on the titles to the properties. But titles alone do not determine whether assets are non-marital or marital. Winning this point requires more proof. Understanding the evidence you need to achieve a successful result in your divorce trial is just one area among many in which skilled counsel can help you. Experienced Miami divorce attorney Sara Saba has been providing strong and dependable advocacy for her family law clients for more than 13 years. Contact us online or by calling (305) 450-8009 to schedule your consultation. Hablamos Español.

More blog posts:

Multi-Million Dollar Appreciation of Florida Husband’s Stock Portfolio Was 100% a Marital Asset Because He Lacked Evidence Proving Otherwise, Miami Divorce Lawyer Blog, March 6, 2018

Dealing with Equitable Distribution in Florida as a Business Owner Going Through a Divorce, Miami Divorce Lawyer Blog, Feb. 16, 2016