Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Divorce
In the appellate case Goley v. Goley, 1D18-9 (Fla. 1st DCA May 6, 2019), the former wife appealed a trial court’s decision to credit real property to her in equitable distribution which she contended reduced her alimony award and affected her entitlement to attorneys’ fees. Although the appellate court found the trial court erroneously concluded the property was marital, it nonetheless affirmed the trial court’s ruling.
The former wife’s parents made a down payment on a tract of land with an oral agreement that the former wife and former husband would pay the loan on the land. Once the loan was paid-off, the parents agreed to transfer title of half of the property to the former husband and former wife. The loan was eventually paid by the spouses, but the former wife’s father refused to transfer title as agreed. By the time of the parties’ divorce, the former husband contended he should receive credit for the payments made toward the property. The former wife objected on the basis that her parents were not parties to the divorce and therefore the court could not adjudicate ownership interests in the house absent their participation.
As the appellate opinion states, “the trial court considered the property in Ponce de Leon a marital asset and determined the parties had an "equitable interest and a claim" in the property against the parents. The trial court assessed a value of $45,000 to the property and awarded the equity interest and claim on the property to the former wife. The trial court noted the unequal distribution of this asset was also made in consideration of the former wife's claim for alimony and payment of her attorney's fees and costs.” The former wife appealed this decision, arguing, “1) the Ponce de Leon property is not a marital asset; (2) neither party filed a claim against her father, thus, the father was never a party to the dissolution proceedings; and (3) as the parties do not have legal title to the property, the equity interest and claim in the property is an illusory asset.”
Although the appellate court agreed with the former wife, it nonetheless upheld the trial court’s ruling, holding “Nevertheless, we affirm the final judgment as it is otherwise supported by evidence, and the final judgment contains sufficient specificity to outline the trial court's intent in the equitable distribution scheme. [. . .] Here, the trial judge made detailed findings regarding the net income of both parties. These findings are not challenged on appeal. The trial judge found that the net incomes were similar and that the former husband did not have the ability to pay the former wife the $1,500.00 per month alimony she was seeking. The trial judge explained his calculation for awarding $500.00 per month in permanent alimony. Based on the uncontested evidence in the record, the former husband does not have the ability to pay the former wife more in alimony or to pay her attorney's fees, regardless of whether the property at issue was considered. The uncontested findings of the trial court regarding the income of the parties demonstrate that the Ponce de Leon property did not affect the ultimate alimony award or the denial of attorney's fees. Accordingly, we find the trial court's error regarding the property harmless.”
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