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Equitable distribution and asset valuation: How does the court value and divide assets in a divorce case?

Although it may seem simple, one of the most complicating factors in a divorce can be the valuation of assets. According to Florida law, when distributing marital assets and liabilities in a divorce, the trial court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal unless the parties can properly justify an unequal distribution based on all the relevant factors. However, determining what is "equal" is not as easy as it may seem
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Section 61.075, Florida Statutes specifies that the Court, in distributing assets, must include specific written findings of fact determining a clear identification of nonmarital assets and ownership interests, an identification of marital assets including individual valuations of each asset and a designation of which spouse should receive which assets, and any other findings deemed necessary by the court to advise the parties.

At trial, each party must present competent substantial evidence to support the value of each asset. Some assets may require the testimony of experts to establish a value. For example, real property may need to be valued by an appraiser or a valuation expert may need to prepare the present day value of a pension or a business. It is unlikely that a parties' opinion or information found on the internet will be considered competent substantial evidence for the Court to rely on in valuing some assets.

Another important factor to be considered by the Court is the date that assets should be valued. Florida law says that “the cut off date for determining assets and liabilities to be identified or classified as marital assets and liabilities is the earliest of the date the parties enter into a valid separation agreement, such other date as may be expressly established by such agreement, or the date of the filing of a petition for dissolution of marriage." As such the Court will normally look to the date that a Petition is filed to determine whether an asset exists that needs to be valued. However, the Court has discretion in determining the date the asset should be valued, such as the date the Petition was filed, the date of trial or some other date that the "judge determines is just and equitable under the circumstances." § 61.075, Fla. Stat.(7).

The parties will often disagree about the date for valuing assets as accounts can fluctuate substantially from the date the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is filed to the date of trial. One party may argue that the other party has dissipated assets during the dissolution proceedings and therefore it is equitable to use the date of filing to value the assets while the other party will argue that the account was depleted on marital living expenses and the date of trial is more equitable for the valuation of assets. Another common example is the valuation of a business where one party claims that during the pendency of the proceedings the value of the business has substantially declined. There are also assets that are subject to market forces and therefore vary for reasons unrelated to either party such as assets that are invested in the stock market. In all of these situations, the Court will make a finding as to when the asset should be valued and the value of the asset. The Court may find that some assets should be valued as of one date and some assets should be valued as of a different date.

Even in a divorce where the only issue is the distribution of assets and liabilities, it is necessary to seek the counsel of a competent divorce lawyer. It may also be necessary to seek the assistance of other professionals to properly prepare your case for trial and your divorce attorney will be prepared to properly advise you of those matters. In addition to divorce matters, our firm also takes on cases involving custody battles, relocation issues, domestic violence injunctions, will and probate, criminal defense, personal injury, medical malpractice, and wrongful death cases. While our main office is in Gainesville, we also handle family law matters through our satellite offices in Ocala, Cheifland, Lake City, and Palatka.

For help with your legal issue, contact the Law Offices of Stephen K. Miller for a free phone consultation at (866) 496-8752 or via email at Info@ForYourLaw.com

BY: Stephanie N. Mack, Board Certified Marital & Family Law Attorney

June 22, 2012
 
 
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