The Significance of “Marital Gifts” in Divorce Cases
A Real-life Example
How Pre Nuptials, Post Nuptials, and Property Agreements Matter other than Related to Alimony
Introduction: In a recent divorce case in Brevard County, Florida, a couple found themselves grappling with the legal complexities of a “marital gift.” The case serves as a noteworthy example of how seemingly separate property can become a point of contention in a divorce proceeding. Having a local, experienced family law attorney is an important part of your matter.
Background: The couple jointly owned a marital home, which was purchased through a combination of mortgage financing and an $80,000 down payment. Notably, the down payment originated from a bonus type payment the husband had received from a former employer. This gratuity was a token of appreciation for services he had rendered prior to his marriage to his wife.
The Twist: At first glance, one might assume that the $80,000 down payment should be considered the husband’s separate property, rightfully belonging to him in the divorce. However, a legal twist complicated matters. When the couple acquired the home, it was deeded to them as a “tenancy by the entirety” – a special form of property ownership exclusively available to married couples, treating them as a single legal entity. Tenancy by the entirety requires primarily that the parties be married, to take their interest in the property at the same time.
Presumption of Marital Asset: Under Florida law, any asset held in a tenancy by the entirety is legally presumed to be a marital asset during divorce proceedings. It’s important to note that the term “presumed to be” holds significant weight, as it implies that the court will assume the asset is marital unless proven otherwise. Some family lawyers say this is a ‘rebuttable’ presumption.
The Husband’s Challenge: For the husband in this case, this meant that the entire value of the marital home, including the $80,000 down payment, was presumed to be a marital asset unless he could provide compelling evidence to the contrary. He needed to prove convincingly that “no gift to the other party was intended.” Simply showing the use of non-marital assets for the home purchase wouldn’t suffice; he needed concrete evidence that the home was exclusively owned by him and not jointly with his spouse. Unfortunately, the husband lacked such evidence and lost his appeal.
The Role of Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements: This case underscores the importance of planning, even when discussing an uncomfortable topic like divorce. While no one wishes to anticipate divorce before a wedding, it is an unfortunate reality for many couples. Proper planning, including the use of prenuptial agreements, can be instrumental in safeguarding one’s assets in the event of a divorce. Prenuptial agreements can help individuals avoid the complications arising from equitable distribution rules and legal presumptions that can work against them.
Conclusion: Whether you require drafting a prenuptial agreement or navigating (and preparing for) equitable distribution matters, the experienced family law attorneys at Rhoden Law Group are ready to assist you. With years of dedicated advocacy in various family law cases, including equitable distribution actions, custody, prenuptials, adoption, and others, we are able to assist you with your matter. Initial consultations are always a courtesy, call 321 549 3162, or text, or email using the contact form on this site.