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When Can an Equitable Distribution Be an Unequal Distribution of Marital Assets in a Florida Divorce?

When your divorce involves two accomplished and successful professionals, and no children, it is very likely that the main issue to be resolved in the divorce case will be equitable distribution. It is important to understand that equitable distribution in Florida does not automatically mean equal distribution. However, in order to award one spouse a larger portion of the marital assets (and/or a smaller portion of the marital debts), there has to be the presence of certain special circumstances. Overcoming your spouse’s request for an unequal distribution can often mean proving that special circumstances don’t exist, or at least that the special circumstances recognized by the law aren’t present. When it comes to avoiding such an unsuccessful outcome, it pays to have representation from a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney.

The question of when an unequal distribution is (or isn’t) allowed was at the center of one divorce case from the Tampa Bay area. D.C. and C.C. were a couple whose marriage was a short-term one. They married in the summer of 2008 and separated late in 2012. The husband was a county government employee in Tampa who earned a stable income. The wife had been a teacher but, in January 2008, began attending law school full time, which she finished in December 2010. During her time in law school, the wife took out more than $91,000 in student loans.

As the couple had no children, the main issue in their divorce was the distribution of marital assets and liabilities. This couple’s trial judge decided that special circumstances did exist to warrant an unequal distribution. The husband had supported the wife “emotionally and financially in her career pursuit” and had been the pair’s primary income source during the marriage. Based on that, the court’s order established a significantly unequal distribution. If the distribution had been equal, the husband would have owed the wife an equalizing payment of $81,000. The court’s order obliged the wife to pay the husband $11,000, for a total difference of more than $92,000 (from what equal distribution would have meant).

The wife appealed and won. As the appeals court explained in throwing out the trial judge’s decision, many of the facts the judge relied upon were not things that the law recognized as triggers for an unequal distribution. The trial judge pointed out that the husband was the primary income earner during the marriage and that the wife’s leaving her teaching career and going back to school full time greatly diminished the pair’s potential household income. Furthermore, the $91,000 in student loans was a marital debt from which the husband would realize no benefit, as the wife got her own apartment, and her own separate bank account, right around the same time as she obtained a job paying her approximately $100,000 per year.

None of those things mattered. The law has long held that the fact that one spouse is a primary wage earner “does not support unequal distribution.” The issue of the student loan debt also wasn’t a valid basis for unequal distribution, as the law is clear that the “fact that one party will not receive any benefit from the other party’s education because of the dissolution is not a factor to be considered when allocating a marital debt for student loans.”

Whether you are contesting an issue of alimony, equitable distribution or some other divorce issue, Miami family law attorney Sara Saba is ready to help. Attorney Saba has been providing effective representation for her clients for more than 13 years. Our team is dedicated solely to meeting your family law needs. Contact us online or by calling (305) 450-8009 to schedule your consultation. Hablamos Español.

More blog posts:

Calculating the Marital Portion of Passive Appreciation of Non-Marital Property in a Florida Divorce, Miami Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 16, 2018

What Happens to Marital Assets that are Expended During the Pendency of Your Florida Divorce?, Miami Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 5, 2018