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Non-marital Assets – Subject to Equitable Distribution

As a general rule non-marital property including property inherited by a spouse prior to the marriage is not subject to division in subsequent dissolution of marriage proceedings.

There are occasions, however, that the Courts have found that inherited non-marital assets can become marital assets

Notably the Florida Supreme Court in the case of Hooker v. Hooker, 220 3d 397 (Fla. 2017) agreed with the trial court’s determination that a husband made an interspousal gift of his pre-marital real properties to his wife based on how the parties “treated” the properties during the marriage, and notwithstanding title to the properties was never transferred to the wife. Based on these findings, the pre-marital properties were found to be marital property subject to equitable distribution.

The trial court based its finding on the parties’ course of conduct and statements made during the marriage. Title was never changed to the wife during the marriage and remained solely in the husband’s name. Factors the trial court considered included that the parties raised their family on the property, that the wife participated in maintenance and upkeep, and that the wife was granted unrestricted access to the property.

In Hooker, there was even a prenuptial agreement between the parties which contained provisions that each party was to keep their premarital property during the marriage.

This ruling is a big departure from long standing family law principles.

This opinion impacts people with prenuptial agreements designed to protect their premarital property, and changes the way non-marital property can become marital where title has never been transferred, and it may impact other property determinations based on claims that a spouse “gifted” property to the other spouse during the marriage. Thus, a person’s careful efforts to keep non-marital property separate may be unknowingly undone through innocent behavior during the course of a marriage despite the original property owner’s actual intent to keep the property separate.

To confuse the matter still further the Court has found that even under circumstances where an inherited asset remains non-marital and not subject to division by the Court in a dissolution of marriage under the scenario outlined above, the asset still may become divisible in a divorce if the efforts of either party increased the asset value during the marriage or when marital funds are spent to maintain that asset.

Should you have questions relating to premarital or inherited property in your dissolution of marriage, please set up a no cost consultation with our office to see how these issues may be handled by the court under your specific circumstances.

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