The division of assets and liabilities of a marriage is an important aspect of a divorce. Equitable distribution is the identification, valuation and division of marital assets and liabilities. Under Florida law, the starting point is to equally divide the value of the marital assets and liabilities that were accumulated during the marriage.
At the Law Offices of Robert J. Merlin, P.A., we are very mindful of the costs associated with determining assets and liabilities versus the potential gain. We strongly urge our clients not to argue over small items, because the amount of attorney's fees spent to retain possession of items such as pots, pans and dishes, is frequently more than the value of the items. In appropriate circumstances, we might seek an unequal division of the marital assets and liabilities, especially when alimony is awarded as a lump sum or if the other party has either dissipated or expended an unequal amount of the marital assets.
A significant issue could be determining whether an asset is marital. Generally, assets that a party has coming into a marriage or receives from a third party through a gift or inheritance, is not a marital asset. But such assets can become marital if, for instance, the asset is put into joint names with the other spouse. Under Florida law, inter-spousal gifts, such as a birthday or anniversary gift, are marital, but our experience is that spouses frequently negotiate a settlement that provides, for instance, that each spouse will keep their own jewelry, even if the other spouse gave it to them, because the intent was for the receiving spouse to have that as a true gift. Retirement accounts often have both non-marital and marital components. It is critical for a spouse who claims that a portion of her or his retirement account is non-marital to obtain a statement of the account from shortly before the marriage to prove that the non-marital retirement account existed and its value at that time.