Equitable Distribution of the Marital Home and Credit Card Debt
Credit card debt accumulated during a marriage can be a major point of contention in divorce negotiations, just like the equitable distribution of the marital home. Both items may be thought of as worth more or less, depending on the party’s viewpoint.
Recently, a former wife in Orlando, Judith, appealed the final judgment dissolving her marriage to Michael, claiming that that the trial court erred in its distribution of the marital credit card debt and failing to make specific findings of fact relating to the equitable distribution of the marital home.
In the decision, the Court of Appeal wrote that pursuant to § 61.075(3), a trial court must identify the marital assets and marital liabilities. This includes the valuation of significant assets, the designation of which spouse is entitled to each asset, and which spouse is to be responsible for each liability.
The trial court here identified the parties’ home as a marital asset and found that Michael’s expert valued the home before trial at $274,000. The trial judge used this value when it found that the parties’ equity in the home was $154,000. Given these figures, the judge distributed half of the equity ($77,000) to each party (subject to Michael’s entitlement to receive credits against Judith’s interest in the home for his payment of her portion of the property taxes, insurance, homeowner’s association fees, repairs, maintenance costs, and other fees associated with the home). The Court of Appeal noted that it would’ve been preferable for the trial judge to have explicitly found in the final judgment that the value of the marital home was $274,000, but there was no error by the trial judge’s in the distribution of the marital home and the determination of credits.
Credit Card Debt
As far as the credit card debt during the marriage and the distribution of the credit card debt, Judith made only a vague and conclusory assertion that the trial court erred in ruling that each party should be responsible “for their own credit cards.” Plus, she didn’t provide any support for her claim. The Court of Appeal relied on an earlier decision that held that “[a]n appellant who presents no argument as to why a trial court’s ruling is incorrect on an issue has abandoned the issue…”
The Court went on to note that although the credit cards were in the parties’ individual names, neither spouse disputed the trial judge’s classification of the credit card debt as a marital debt. The Court note that the trial court did err in failing to place a value on this marital liability in its final judgment—thereby failing to demonstrate that its distribution of the marital property was, in fact, equitable. However, Judith didn’t raise this error in her initial appellate brief, so she was deemed to have abandoned the issue. Thus, the appellate court also affirmed the trial judge’s decision on the credit card issue. Stephens v. Whittaker, Case No. 5D16-1631 (DCA 5th April 28, 2017)
Florida Divorce Law
Florida divorce law says that there must be an “equitable distribution” of marital assets and liabilities (debts). The law also guides the court on how to divide marital property and debts. Some of the factors to be considered by the court include the contribution of each spouse to the marriage; the duration of the marriage; and the economic circumstances of each spouse.
If you and your spouse can agree to a property settlement—and if your agreement is legal and reasonable—it may be approved by the court. If you and your spouse can’t agree, the court will make formal findings at trial and divide the assets and liabilities in accordance with governing Florida law.
Speak with a divorce attorney about your rights, especially as they concern marital property and debts. Call DeVoe Law Firm to schedule a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney.