Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Divorce

Throughout a marriage, one spouse or the other may gift substantial money to family members. Can these gifts be held against the spouse who gave the money away when it is time to divorce? What about monetary gifts received from family members - can these funds be used to determine a spouse should not receive alimony or an award of attorneys’ fees in a Florida divorce? The recent appellate case Sarazin v. Sarazin, 1D17-5237 (Fla. 1st DCA February 5, 2019) examines these issues.

The former wife appealed a final judgment as to equitable distribution, alimony and attorneys’ fees and costs. As to equitable distribution, the former wife took issue with the trial court’s refusal to include in the distribution scheme $80,000 the former husband sent to his family overseas shortly before the divorce case was filed. The former wife testified she did not approve the gift and the trial court believed her. However, the trial court determined the former husband was unaware that divorce was imminent when he made the transfer. The appellate court affirmed this decision, holding the trial court did not abuse its discretion to include the $80,000 in the distribution since there was no finding of intentional misconduct on the part of the former husband in gifting the money.

Moving on the the alimony, the former wife took issue with the trial court’s imputation of over $4,000 per month to her in gifts received from her family. The former wife argued it was error for the court to consider this in determining her alimony claim when there was no guarantee she would continue to receive such gifts from her family members. The appellate court agreed with her, holding “The wife testified her family helped her when she had needs, and it may be logical to conclude—as the trial court did—that her family would continue to help her when she had post-marriage needs. But our precedent does not allow such a conclusion to affect alimony determinations. On remand, the court should not consider family gifts in determining alimony.”

Last, regarding attorneys’ fees, the former wife challenged the trial court’s denial of her claim for the same. The trial court determined that because the former wife’s fees were paid by her family members, she did not have a need for payment of them by the former husband. The former wife argued it was error for the trial court to base its decision on assistance from her family. However, the appellate court disagreed, holding “Here, the court found that the wife's fees were paid by her family, that she had no obligation to repay, and that she therefore had no financial need relating to fees [. . .] We cannot conclude that the trial court's finding regarding the wife's lack of need was not supported by competent, substantial evidence. The wife did not need assistance from her former husband to secure quality counsel.”

Gifts from family members can create issues in a Florida divorce when it comes to determining equitable distribution and financial support. If you have questions about how financial assistance from your family members may affect your case, schedule a consultation with a Miami divorce attorney.