Those in struggling marriages who start thinking about divorce often have a lot of questions about the process. Most people have heard stories about divorce turning ugly that involve highly-skewed outcomes and financial hardship. Concern about the monetary impact of divorce is a frequently cited reason for people to stay in unhappy marriages.
In reality, people have two primary options in most divorce scenarios. They can either reach an agreement with their spouse regarding the division of their property or they can go to court and have a judge apply the Florida equitable distribution rules to their marital estate. When couples litigate, the judge will have the final say in what assets each spouse keeps.
Equitable division aims to reach a fair outcome
The idea behind equitable distribution is that both spouses should receive what is reasonable and fair given the circumstances of the marriage and of each spouse. Judges need to consider numerous details about the marital relationship and each spouse when deciding what would be fair. How much each spouse has earned and will earn in the future can be a major consideration, as are the unpaid contributions each spouse has made to the household. The health of both parties and their separate property, as well as the length of the marriage, can all influence what would be fair for a specific family.
Judges can assign more marital property to one spouse than the other. They can also make decisions regarding shared debts. They can order the sale of certain assets so that the spouses can split the proceeds. Even resources that are solely in the name of one spouse, like retirement accounts or vehicle titles, could be part of the marital estate and subject to division.
There is little certainty in litigated property division proceedings, as judges will have their own idea about what is fair. Particularly when someone feels very strongly about achieving a specific outcome or retaining certain assets, it may be necessary to negotiate a settlement and file an uncontested divorce instead of leaving major determinations to the discretion of a family law judge.
Learning more about state statutes as they apply to divorce proceedings can help people know what to expect and how to proceed when contemplating divorce in Florida.