Dividing Marital Assets and Debts in a Florida Divorce After Using Marital Funds for Gambling, Affairs or Drugs

1129102_poker.jpgGambling debts, martial affairs, excessive drug use and the like can lead to a divorce in Florida. However, Florida is a no-fault state so these things do not really come into play when determining such things as alimony. As a Jacksonville divorce lawyer, I am often able to get these acts of impropriety and waste into the case because Florida law does allow for these actions of using martial funds for the benefit of one spouse to play a role in dividing assets and liabilities. Florida Statute Sec. 61.075 (1)(I) provides that one of the factors for unequal distribution is: “The intentional dissipation, waste, depletion, or destruction of marital assets after the filing of the petition or within 2 years prior to the filing of the petition.” Therefore, the use of marital funds to further such things as an affair, within two years of filing for divorce, can be used to unequally distribute assets and debts to the parties.

When the court hears a divorce case and the court makes a decision regarding division of assets, then the losing party may believe that there are grounds for an appeal. In that case, the appealing party provides a brief to the appellate court establishing the legal basis and argument for why the first court’s order should be overturned. In a recent Florida case, Zambuto v. Zambuto, 36 FLW D2758 (Fla. 2nd DCA December 16, 2011), the Husband filed an appeal after the Wife was awarded an unequal distribution of marital debts and assets to her favor. In this case, the Husband had gambling debts/losses of $90,000.00 that were established two years before the filing for divorce. In the first court, the debts for gambling were charged solely to the Husband and the Husband appealed. The appellate court heard the case and ultimately decided to overturn the first trial court’s decision regarding said debts due to the lack of specific findings that the gambling only benefited the Husband and that the gambling occurred during the “undergoing of irreconcilable differences,” meaning the parties were not getting along and heading towards divorce.

While the appellate court seems to put this new twist on the statute, there is question as to whether the appellate court intended to require that in all circumstances, the debt for the benefit of one party is accumulated during the “undergoing of irreconcilable differences.” In this case, there was a history of the Husband making more money than the Wife and using gambling as a way to entertain business clients, and sometimes the Wife joined in the gambling. Therefore, the thought may be that the court intended this second portion for purposes of activities that historically benefited both parties, not just one, and that the use of the martial funds was done at a time when the Husband already stopped the benefit to the Wife by reducing the money in their joint accounts, moving out, etc. However, the case does not specifically state this and therefore leads to the question of whether funds depleted two years before filing must only be considered if the funds were depleted during the, “undergoing of irreconcilable differences.”