We’ve all heard the urban legends about one spouse selling the other spouse’s prized possession, usually a most sought after vehicle like an original 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 Super Snake or something similar, for pennies on the dollar through a local classified add that a friend of a friend of a third removed cousin’s brother saw one Saturday morning, called and ended up getting the deal of the century. All because the spouse selling the car was upset at the other and usually in the middle of, or maybe as a precursor to, a nasty divorce.
Can this happen? Well I’m sure at sometime, somewhere such a sale took place. But, does that mean the spouse that did the dastardly deal got away with it? Not likely, at least not if the injured spouse was our client. Florida is an equitable distribution state and that term is used to describe how the marital assets and debts of a divorcing couple are divided between the parties at the time of the divorce. Notice that it is not referred to as equal distribution, this is because the particular equities of a particular divorce case may not require or rather may not justify an equal division of all assets and debts between the parties. One example of such an outcome could be to balance the asset equities of a couple where one of them completed a sale as mentioned above.
So how would this work? Let’s assume the vehicle sold by the angered spouse was in fact a marital asset and was worth $50,000 (in reality the Cobra mentioned above was sold at auction for 5.5 Million in 2007, it’s a very special car, to say the least) as such each spouse has an owned equitable value in the vehicle worth $25,000. Let us further assume, according to urban legend, that the spouse selling the vehicle sold it for $50.00. Pursuant to Florida statutes defining and controlling the equitable distribution of marital assets the Court is instructed to review numerous factors, if presented with the proper legal arguments, and one of those factors is the intentional dissipation, waste, depletion, or destruction of marital assets after the filing of the petition for divorce or within 2 years prior to the filing of the petition. Now that factor would seem to cover our urban legend situation and even if it didn’t the Court is also instructed to consider “any other factors necessary to do equity and justice between the parties.” So the Court receives testimony and evidence regarding the sale of the vehicle, its sale price, its actual value on the date of the sale and further evidence that the complaining spouse did not in fact cooperate or otherwise approve of the sale of the vehicle. What is the likely outcome? Well we know from the above facts (urban legend) that the vehicle was worth $50,000 and one spouse sold it for $50.00 when they would have been entitled to receive $25,000 as his or her equitable share of the vehicle with the other spouse receiving $25,000 as their respective share. As such. what would be equitable here, would be for a the Court to rule that the selling spouse gave away $24,950 ($25,000 - $50.00) of his or her equitable share in the ill advised sale and owes to the other spouse $25,000 for that spouse’s equitable share due to the selling spouse’s intentional dissipation, waste, depletion, or destruction of the marital vehicle. Moreover, the Court, to balance the parties’ asset equities, would award the injured spouse $25,000 of equity that would otherwise belong to the selling spouse in some other marital asset be it the marital home, another vehicle and/or a retirement account. Regardless of the actual item used to balance the equities the selling spouse will end up being the only one to actually lose the value due to his or her vindictive actions. Probably not what he or she had hoped to accomplish.