What Happens to Property Owned Before Marriage in Florida?

Property division is an important part of the divorce process. You are likely to have property and finances that you acquired prior to your marriage and it is in your best interests to ensure these items are protected. It’s also vital to make certain your spouse doesn’t attempt to conceal marital assets by claiming they were owned prior to your union.

Your best chance of success in these matters arises when you collaborate with experienced attorneys. The firm of In Law We Trust Divorce and Family Lawyers has earned a reputation for guiding Florida men through the challenges associated with asset division during divorce.

So, let’s take a look at what happens to property owned before marriage in Florida and how you should approach the issue during your divorce.

Marital vs Non-Marital Property

So, what happens to property owned before marriage in Florida? Under the state’s legislation, only what is considered to be marital property factors into the division of assets. The definition of marital assets is restricted to those items that were acquired during the course of the marriage.

Strictly speaking, then, no property you owned before your marriage should form part of the negotiations of a settlement. This is a relatively simple matter when it comes to a vehicle or some furniture you purchased before you met your spouse. However, there are some nuances that might surprise you that it’s worth being aware of.

For instance, you might think that if you started a job prior to meeting your spouse that your accrued pension as a result of that job would be considered non-marital property. Yet, part of this asset could be considered marital property. Effectively, the courts are likely to consider any percentage of your retirement fund that you gain prior to your marriage to be non-marital in nature. The amount that you invested in the same fund during the course of your marriage and interest accrued on that amount would, however, usually be considered a marital asset.

Potential Exceptions

For the most part, Florida divorce courts hold to the idea that assets accrued prior to the marriage are kept by the spouse that acquired them. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. The courts may not necessarily apply these exceptions in all circumstances, but there is a basis for them being utilized.

Perhaps the most obvious of these is the prenuptial or premarital agreement. If both parties have agreed to a division of all property, including traditionally non-marital items, this can be treated using the usual process. In most cases, this exception is applied in the opposite direction, with traditionally marital assets being treated as non-marital. Yet, particularly with regard to previously accrued wealth, businesses, or other assets, some couples choose to agree to an alternative definition. It’s important to note, though, that this must be a valid premarital agreement, preferably arranged by attorneys representing each individual party and notarized accordingly. Neither party should have been subject to any duress in agreeing to the contract, either.

Another general exception to this rule is when income is gained from non-marital assets. In many cases, profits gained from businesses during the course of a marriage can be considered to be marital in nature. However, if one party purchased a rental property prior to the marriage, for instance, not only is the property itself not to be a marital asset, but the income gained from it may also be exempt from division.

As always, these types of nuances are complex in nature and can be interpreted by the court. Therefore, it’s vital to work with a divorce lawyer with experience representing men in the Florida family courts to understand and apply these definitions appropriately.

The Division Process

It’s important not to simply assume that items are marital or non-marital in nature. Yes, there are some generally accepted principles at play and these may well dictate the course of your divorce settlement. Nevertheless, until the division process has been completed and agreed by both parties, you should treat all your items as potentially marital assets — even the CD collection that you’ve had since college. This means you shouldn’t sell anything, gift anything, destroy anything, or otherwise transfer ownership in any way. If you sell a classic car you purchased prior to the marriage and it substantially gained in value, the court may consider this partially a marital asset, and you could find yourself penalized.

The division of property will begin with a discovery process. This involves your attorney and your ex’s attorney investigating all pertinent aspects of your marriage. It’s important to be as open here as possible. Work alongside your attorney and disclose every asset you have, both marital and non-marital. Obviously, it’s important not to purposely hide anything, but accidentally concealing something because you assume it to be non-marital or insignificant is also a mistake. Provide as much information as possible and your attorney will help you to understand what assets form part of the division.

Part of your openness here also needs to include providing information on the circumstances around the ownership of assets. How it was acquired, how it’s been used, and even conditions of acquisition can all play a role in whether items are defined as non-marital and how they’re divided. For instance, if you personally received an inheritance from a relative during your marriage and your spouse was not named as a co-recipient, this could still be considered non-marital. So, be communicative here.

Proving and Contesting Sole Ownership

In the best case scenario, the division process will run relatively smoothly with agreements from all parties. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Your spouse may try to obtain an unfair division of your non-marital assets by contesting your ownership. Alternatively, your ex might try to conceal a key marital asset by claiming it was obtained prior to your union. Such difficulties can disrupt an otherwise amicable resolution.

Therefore, it’s important to consider what forms of evidence you can provide to prove your sole ownership or contest that of your spouse. This could include:

Purchase receipts

This is one of the most valuable forms of evidence when proving or contesting sole ownership of property. This is because most receipts confirm the date and venue of purchase. Wherever possible, these should be original receipts from the time of purchase and not handwritten in nature. There should also be a way to verify with the selling agent. Alongside physical assets, receipts in the form of agreement contracts for retirement funds can also be evidence.

Financial statements

Naturally, not everybody keeps receipts for every item they own. In this case, financial statements can play an important role as evidence in support of or in opposition to sole ownership. Even if an item was purchased in cash, a statement showing the funds being withdrawn can be helpful. Financial statements are also important in establishing when savings and investments were initiated and the amount of interest accrued during the course of the marriage.

Witness testimony

Without a solid paper trail, it can be difficult to prove or contest ownership. However, in some instances, witness testimony can be considered. That said, the witness needs to have been present at the time or purchase or acquisition. For preference, they should also be an independent third party rather than a potentially biased relative or friend.

Call The Family Law Attorneys Men Trust (813) 652-0598

In Law We Trust Divorce and Family Lawyers is a premier firm of divorce lawyers representing men in family law proceedings. We have a thorough understanding of the challenges men face in gaining a fair division of assets. Our experience and skills help to guide our clients through the challenges of the Florida legal system and reach a fair outcome. Call us today and get the proper representation men need and deserve.

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