5 Misconceptions About the Divorce and Equitable Distribution Process

equitable distribution photoBeing involved in a family law matter can be one of the most trying times of a person’s life. Whether it is a divorce or a request for custody, a financial matter involving alimony, child support, or the division of a retirement account, the sale of a home or a car, and everything in between, emotions are high. Many people have misconceptions or assumptions about family law that, while they seem to work out on television, are not how judges apply Florida law in actuality.

PART 1 of our 2 part series on Misconceptions in Family Law is about Divorce and Equitable Distribution. Each and every divorce has a unique set of facts, and no 2 can be compared. Below are 5 misconceptions about the divorce and equitable distribution process that I hope will help educate you on the process and manage your expectations in the event you find yourself involved in a dissolution of marriage.

  1. Alimony is a guarantee in a divorce.

Alimony, is never a guarantee, but rather, it is based on a “need and ability to pay” basis. A spouse must have the need for an alimony payment, and the paying spouse must have the ability to pay. The need and ability to pay is determined upon a detailed review of financial resources as well as a variety of factors outlined in the Florida statutes including the standard of living established during the marriage, the duration of the marriage, the contribution of each party to the marriage such as child-rearing, and the earning capacity and skills of each party.

In Florida, there are several types of alimony:

  • Temporary alimony
  • Bridge-the-gap alimony
  • Rehabilitative alimony
  • Durational alimony
  • Permanent alimony

The receipt of alimony is often tied to the length of the marriage.

  1. The Mother automatically gets majority custody of the children after divorce.

While many years ago, this was actually the case, Florida law presumes that each parent should have 50-50 custody of the children. To establish a parenting plan or timesharing (“custody”), the Florida statutes outline 20 factors for a court to consider. These factors include items such as the capacity and disposition of each parent to act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent, the moral fitness of the parents, the capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, and in some cases, the preference of the child. Ultimately, in the eyes of the law, if deemed to be in the best interests of the child, both parents should be entitled to equal time.

  1. If you bought something in your name only, it is yours, and it cannot be split in a divorce.

Names on property do not always equate to rights to property. During a divorce, all marital assets and liabilities are considered to effectuate what is called “equitable distribution.” While an asset such as a bank account or a house may be in only one spouse’s name, if the asset was purchased during the marriage, or if marital funds were used to enhance the asset in any way, it may be considered marital. This does not mean that the spouse who purchased the item or property is not entitled to their non-marital portion of the item, however, simply having their name on the property does not guarantee them full ownership upon the divorce.

  1. Your spouse cheated, so you will “get more” in the divorce as punishment to them.

Florida is a no-fault state. This means that either party can seek a divorce, regardless of the reason. While it takes 2 people to get married, it only takes 1 person to begin the divorce process. In Florida, all that a court will require is the allegation that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.”

  1. An inheritance is not a marital asset.

Often, it is believed that every cent in a marriage, and every dime one spouse receives, is subject to division upon divorce. While, the majority of the time, this is true of marital assets, an inheritance is not always considered a marital asset.

Inherited assets normally remain in the possession of the person who received the inheritance. An exception to this would be in the case where the inherited asset is commingled with marital assets or placed into the name of both parties. If that is the case, it may be subject to equitable distribution unless agreed otherwise.

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