Big Update to Florida’s Property Division Law

There have been big updates to Florida’s property division law after Governor Ron DeSantis signed an important House Bill this month. Many divorce lawyers will be interested in the changes to the equitable distribution statute this bill makes and it can impact your divorce right now.

Property Division Law

Dividing up property in divorce

In every divorce case, courts have to equitably distribute of assets and liabilities between the parties. In order to do that, the court first has to evaluate what assets and liabilities exist, then determine which are “marital” and which are “non-marital.” A new law makes some interesting changes to what are marital and non-marital assets, and how to distribute them.

Marital assets include things like, any assets and debts acquired during the marriage, the enhancement of value and appreciation of non-marital assets due to the efforts of either spouse or the contribution of marital funds or other marital assets; interspousal gifts during the marriage; retirement, pension, profit-sharing, and other similar funds during the marriage

A court always starts with the premise that a distribution of marital assets and liabilities should be equal, unless there is justification for an unequal distribution based on certain factors.

The new bill tries to clarify different aspects of the equitable distribution process. For example, the bill clarifies what sort of circumstances justify an temporary partial distribution during a divorce, and even provides a list of factors for the court to use in making a determination on whether there is good cause to make a temporary partial distribution.

Can you give your house away as a gift?

Believe it or not, there were cases in Florida where spouses accidentally gifted non-marital homes to their spouse by Valentine’s Day card or birthdays cards not knowing they would be found to have the proper donative intent.

The new law now prohibits interspousal gifts of real estate unless there is written documentation that complies with the provisions for conveyance of real property under the statute governing deeds to property. The mere inference of a gift of real property will now not meet the threshold required for an interspousal gift unless there was written documentation for a conveyance.

The bill also makes it clear that when a spouse merely signs a deed for the sole purpose of conveying a homestead property – other than the other spouse or both spouses jointly – does not change the character of the real property.

Finally, the new law changes the definition of non-marital assets and liabilities so that real property acquired separately through non-interspousal gift, bequest, devise, or descent and in which legal title has not been transferred to both parties as tenants in the entireties, remains non-marital property.

How do you value the family business

Your small business can be a marital asset, and difficult to value. That’s  because of the concept of “goodwill.” Goodwill is that intangible value of your business above and beyond the value of its physical assets. Things like, your company’s brand, reputation, amount of loyal customers, employee relations, and proprietary technology are aspects of goodwill.

One kind of goodwill is called “enterprise goodwill”, the value that exists separate and apart from the reputation or continued presence of the spouse who owns the business. Enterprise goodwill is a marital asset equitably distributed in a divorce. On the other hand, “personal goodwill” is the goodwill attributable to the spouse, not to the business itself, and is not a marital asset. That begs the questions, what is and isn’t personal goodwill?

Under the new law, courts have to consider evidence that a non-compete clause or a similar restrictive covenant may be required upon the sale of the business. The law clarifies that the mere existence of a non-compete provision is not dispositive as to whether the goodwill is considered enterprise goodwill. So, even if the valuation of a business is based on the requirement for a non-compete contract, the court can still determine whether the goodwill is enterprise or personal and subject to equitable distribution.

The new law becomes effective July 1, 2024 and is available here.