Divorces can become more complex when a couple is well-off financially and they hold significant assets. Prenuptial agreements and other documentation can help guide the courts regarding what to do in these situations, but some issues can still be difficult to solve, especially if large amounts of property are involved or expensive items are disputed.
Husband tries to evict ex-wife from his beachfront mansion
A Clearwater couple has been placed in a difficult legal situation after their divorce based on a prenuptial agreement that was signed by both of them years earlier.
The couple had been prominent in the local arts community for donating a large photograph collection to a local museum. The husband was the former owner of a transportation company. Each had one child of their own from a prior marriage before they were married to each other.
In 2005, they purchased a Clearwater Beach property and cleared the plot of land to construct a mansion valued at approximately 2.3 million dollars. The home was three stories and over 6500 square feet.
The husband had initially filed for divorce once in 2016, and then again in 2017. The final order dissolving the marriage was issued in February of 2017. A prenuptial agreement that had been executed in 2006 gave him sole ownership rights to the Clearwater Beach mansion if the couple ever divorced. He initially claimed to possess a net worth of just over 20 million dollars. They had struck a settlement agreement in 2016, where his wife was awarded just over a million dollars, in addition to, their 2012 Mercedes vehicle. In exchange, the husband kept total ownership rights of his real estate and other assets.
These on paper agreements did not solve all of the couple’s problems. Apparently, the wife was still living in the Clearwater mansion at the time of the news report, and the husband was seeking the help of the courts for a forced eviction, as well as, additional costs related to any property damage caused by the wife from the time she was ordered to leave.
Drawn out divorce battles
Divorces obviously begin with conflict between the spouses, and it is possible that legal battles and other issues can continue for years even after the divorce is finalized. This is especially true if child custody issues are involved, or couples are fighting over multiple children. Property ownership is usually also a strong point of contention for couples who have significant assets, such as, the couple featured in the news story above. Both sides should have attorneys advocating on their behalf to keep as much of their property and assets as they can.
Property distribution laws in Florida
In Florida, family court judges are given discretion to make an equitable distribution of property when no agreement exists between the parties. This does not necessarily mean equal, as it is a standard based on whatever is fair in the judge’s discretion. Family court judges usually have more latitude to make decisions than in other court systems, as long as their rulings are not considered an abuse of discretion.
Categorization of property
A judge will also have to categorize all property as marital or nonmarital before deciding whether it can be distributed or not. If one spouse has obtained a piece of property before the marriage date and retained sole ownership during the marriage, it may be considered separate property. There are other categories of property, like gifts, that may not be subject to distribution. Obviously, there is a lot of room for argument during property classification, and the answer may not always be clear. This is why it is so important to retain the services of a family lawyer before property division becomes a contested issue during divorce.
A court may enforce a prenuptial agreement as long as there is full disclosure by both parties and there are no issues with duress or unfair timing. In other words, each member of the couple must be fully informed regarding the other person’s assets, and there must be sufficient time allowed before the wedding date to review the agreement and make an informed decision. Situations where one spouse was suddenly given an agreement to sign right before the wedding, when one party lies about their finances, or when full disclosure of assets and liabilities are not made, may cause the agreement to be set aside by the courts. If this happens, the judge can revert to the equitable distribution standard that is used when no prenuptial agreement is in place.
Get in touch with a family lawyer in your city
To learn more about getting a divorce or any other family law issues in the Clearwater area, contact The Law Offices of Yeazell and Sweet. They can offer advice about all kinds of family law matters and how Florida law will affect your situation.