Fort Lauderdale Property Division Lawyer
Delray Beach 401K Stock Division Attorney
Dividing Assets and Debts Fairly in Your Florida Divorce
In any divorce, marital property division is a major source of contention. But it is not always necessary (or advisable) to go to trial to get your fair share. Litigation drains resources through substantial legal fees — do you really "win" if you end up with a larger share of a smaller pot? Litigation also puts your fate in the hands of a judge, with no guarantee that you will prevail.
Having handled many divorces, I can attest that mediation or negotiation usually produces a more satisfying outcome for both parties: (a) more assets to share, (b) a quicker and less stressful divorce, and (c) less animosity toward your ex-spouse in the end. (If you will share parenting duties after divorce, this last point cannot be overemphasized.)
The Law Office of Curtis R. Cowan, P.A. represents divorcing men and women throughout Broward County and Palm Beach County. Contact my Fort Lauderdale office at (954) 769-0670 to discuss the unique factors in your marital property division. I am a board-certified marital and family lawyer and a certified mediator, with experience representing professionals, executives, business owners, and other clients with significant and complex estates.
Marital Property Division in Florida
Under Florida law, the court must try to make an "equitable distribution" of marital assets and debts. "Equitable" does not always mean "equal," although that is the court's presumptive starting point. There are four key stages, and experienced legal representation can help ensure a fair, efficient, cost-conscious result:
- Identifying all assets and liabilities — As your attorney, I can help ferret out a spouse's unreported income or efforts to shield hidden assets through friends or family.
- Classifying assets as marital property or non-marital property — The assets you accumulated together during marriage are generally split evenly, even if your incomes were greatly uneven. Assets held prior to marriage (or an inheritance while married) remain the property of each person. However, there are many gray areas of the law requiring skilled legal interpretation: were non-marital assets commingled with marital property? Did "marital labor" improve the value of non-marital assets?
- Valuing assets — As necessary, I go into the community to find accountants, appraisers, art dealers, and other experts to put an accurate value on the home and other real estate, pension and retirement assets, closely held businesses, stocks and investments, and other valuables. Whether the appraisal occurs at the date you separated, the date you filed, or the eventual date of the divorce decree can make a big difference.
- Distributing assets — You can't split a house 50-50 without selling it, possibly at a loss. I help couples arrive at creative but fair arrangements to divide assets and debts (for example, she keeps the house and home equity along with a proportionate chunk of the credit card balances, or he gives up the 401(k) if she agrees to forego alimony payments).
When Is "Equitable" Not Equal?
Many factors can cause the court to make an unequal (but still equitable) division of property: First of all, either party retains assets owned prior to marriage, or under a prenuptial agreement. Certain accumulations of wealth during the marriage may be granted to one party if that spouse made an extraordinary contribution to acquire the asset. A court may also reduce one party's proceeds for "marital waste" (e.g., a husband or wife who used marital assets to provide gifts or support to a lover). Whenever the distribution deviates from a 50-50 split, the court must have a specific finding to do so.
Family Home and Finances
For most people, lifestyles change after a divorce. It costs more to run two households than one. Before you enter into litigation, consider the financial impact on the marital estate. A judge may award attorney's fees if one party has limited ability to retain quality legal counsel. However, this is not guaranteed.
Homes and Businesses
Since courts have a strong preference for maintaining stability for children, they can award the marital residence for use and possession by the spouse with the most overnight timesharing (parenting plan). Similarly a self-employed spouse may use part of a home for business purposes. Personal or business, division of marital assets can be complex. I help clients understand the law, the issues and what makes the most sense for their situation.
Contact the Law Office of Curtis R. Cowan, P.A. in Ft. Lauderdale to discuss your divorce and marital property division with a seasoned, board-certified lawyer. You can reach me at (954) 769-0670.