Switch to ADA Accessible Theme
Close Menu

Appeals Court Hears Case On Equitable Distribution Of Marital Property


Each state has its own rules on how property and debts are divided once a marriage is dissolved. Some states, like California, are considered “community property” states. In these states, the marital estate is simply divided in half with each party receiving 50% of its assets and liabilities. Florida does not work like that. Instead, it relies on a process of equitable distribution. That means that judges have discretion when dividing the marital estate and can divide it unevenly if they see fit and depending on the specific circumstances of each case.

On the other hand, there is a presumption that the marital estate should be divided evenly among the parties, even in Florida. Therefore, a petitioner who is requesting more of the marital estate than 50% must show that they would be economically disadvantaged by a 50/50 split. In those cases, the court will favor the lower-earning party with a greater share of the marital assets and a smaller share of the marital debts.

In one recent Florida case, Siegmeister v. Hellard, the trial court saw fit to award the wife a greater share of the marital assets than the husband. At issue were whether or not a condominium and two investment accounts constituted marital property or the husband’s own personal property. The husband argued that the assets were personal property as they were titled in his name. However, after a 4-day evidentiary hearing, the trial court concluded that the assets were marital property. The husband appealed the decision.

Understanding the appeal 

In his appeal, the husband argued that he met his evidentiary burden to establish that the property in question was not marital property. Under Florida law, the court will presume that property is marital property and place the burden of proving that it is not on the spouse who argues that it is personal property. The husband further argued that the court’s determinations that the property was marital property were not supported by competent substantial evidence. The rules for determining whether an asset or liability is marital property can be found in Florida Statutes § 61.075(1). In other words, the court must substantiate claims that a property is marital property with factual findings. The husband argued that the trial court never did this and appealed the decision on that basis.

On appeal, the husband again had the burden of proving that the trial court erred when determining the property was part of the marital estate. The appeals court determined that the husband only provided a limited record of the trial court’s evidentiary hearing. The appeals court was forced to presume the correctness of the trial court’s finding. It therefore found in favor of the wife.

Talk to an Orlando Family Law Attorney Today 

Greater Orlando Family Law represents the interests of divorcing couples in Orlando. If you are planning on getting a divorce, you will need an experienced Orlando family attorney by your side to negotiate the best possible dissolution settlement. Call our office today to schedule an appointment, and learn more about how we can help.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn